I was reading one of my favorite blogs the other day - I have many - and Gail of Clay and Limestone posed the question, "What taproots you to your garden?" At first, I wondered what she meant, but as I worked my way down her post, I knew that I'd already thought about this long before she brought up the subject. She merely put a poetic spin on it.
As gardeners, we know what a taproot is. Many times as Romie is helping me dig and transplant something from one place to another (or I'm helping him), he'll say, "We need to be sure to get the taproot or it won't live." While that may or may not be true, the taproot runs deep and it's hard to remove the entire plant. It's as if the plant is sending the message that it doesn't want to go anywhere because it's doing just fine where it is, thankyouverymuch.
A few years ago, I had a recurring dream - a nightmare, really - in which we sold our house, bought a fixer-uper, then halfway through the fixing-up, I missed my old house and wanted it back. Of course, someone else owned and was living in MY house and didn't want to give it back to us. I couldn't blame them. I liked my house, too, and I really wanted it to be ours again. I started crying uncontrollably, my heart broken. A couple of times, I actually woke up sobbing.
Wonder what a dreamologist would do with that.
Eventually, I stopped having that dream. But it presented a very real question to myself. What would happen when the day actually came that I did have to move from this house? Romie and I have talked about whether we want to live here when we become unable to care for it ourselves. It's not a particularly large house, but neither is it small. And the property is an acre in size, with considerable gardens on that acre.
The gardens that are now known collectively as Our Little Acre have evolved over time, as most gardens do. They were created in bits and pieces as time, money, and energy allowed. As is the case of anything we put sweat equity into, there lives a little bit of our heart also. In fact, I can think of nothing on this property that was purely created by us (and God, of course) other than the gardens.
Are they just a collection of plants growing? They are that, but they are much more. If you come to visit the gardens, I will happily give you the in-depth tour (whether you want that one or not) where I give you the history and anecdotes about how this came to be the way it is, why I planted that there, and will even tell you about past plants no longer growing there. Every plant has a story, and it is in the telling of these stories that gives the clues as to why I am taprooted in my garden.
There are general reasons, too.
Our children grew up here. It's the only home they ever had until they left for college. I can remember the day that Romie and I were working in the garden together when Kara was two years old and I was pregnant for Jenna. A storm was fast approaching and I was hurrying to get the strawberries picked. Kara was on the perimeter and every little bit, I would throw a strawberry to her. She'd toddle over and pick it up and stick it in her mouth. As soon as she swallowed it, she'd say, "More!"
Scenes of Jenna going for rides in the wheelbarrow as Romie used it for yard work play through my mind. She grew up as his shadow, taking to yard and garden work like a fish to water. Even now, she'll get the mower out in the summer when she's here for a visit if the yard looks as if it could use a cutting.
I grew up near here, too, just three miles away. This is 'my' country and I know it well. I learned about our clay soil from my parents. Before I even considered gardening, I knew what a frustration it was to try and grow things in it, except for corn, wheat and soybeans. Our small town was home to a clay tile factory, for goodness' sake. Mom says we should be making pottery, not growing flowers.
Over the past few years, first with help and guidance from my mom, and later through research of my own, I have learned to tame that mucky stuff and turn it into something in which plants like to grow and thrive.
There are the individual plants, shrubs, and trees that we acquired in a unique way or were gifts for special occasions. How could I ever leave the Peolac? Or the pine tree that I carried home from Maine in my suitcase in 1979 that has grown to be taller than our two-story house?
What about the Buckeye tree that Mom and Dad bought for us to plant when Kara was born in 1980? My grandma turned 94 the day after Christmas - could anyone else know what the Japanese Maple she thought I "needed" and bought for me in 2006 is worth to me?
So many passalongs - the 'Dawn' Hosta from Kim, the Trollius from my friend Alison (whose plant is from her sister, who got hers from Monticello), the Flame Grass from Sue, the Iris from my next-door neighbor, and countless trees, shrubs, and perennials from Mom. Those things couldn't possibly mean as much to someone else as they do to me.
A tree once grew tall at the north edge of the vegetable garden and then one day it died. We were sad, because Kara had brought the tiny pine sapling home from school when she was in the sixth grade. I couldn't bear to have Romie cut it down entirely, so he stripped the branches and left five feet of the trunk. That tree is now a colorful directional with a birdhouse on top, where each year baby birds get their start in life.
As is sometimes the case with gardens, they become the final resting place for beloved pets, and ours is no different. There lie numerous cats and pet rabbits, Iggy the iguana, Madeline the tarantula, Sal the salamander, Pip and Ella the parakeets, and most recently, our dog Simba. It's hallowed ground.
It was here, in this garden, on this acre of land, that I became a real gardener, carrying on the tradition of my mother and grandmother. My roots are in this county, this township, the very soil beneath my feet.
Ideally, it would be a wonderful and satisfying thing if one of our girls eventually lived here, but the chances of them being able to or even wanting to do that are slim at best. So one day, we will leave it to someone who may not want these gardens that we have given so much of to over the years. My dream has shown me that it will be painful, for we will leave a part of ourselves in the walls of this home and the soil surrounding it.
But for now, we continue to live and love and grow and nurture all that surrounds us. We are blessed to have been given charge of so much and we thank God for it all.
Well I was born in a small town
And I live in a small town
Prob'ly die in a small town
Oh, those small communities
All my friends are so small town
My parents live in the same small town
My job is so small town
Provides little opportunity
Educated in a small town
Taught the fear of Jesus in a small town
Used to daydream in that small town
Another boring romantic that's me
No I cannot forget where it is that I come from
I cannot forget the people who love me
Yeah, I can be myself here in this small town
And people let me be just what I want to be
Got nothing against a big town
Still hayseed enough to say
Look who's in the big town
But my bed is in a small town
Oh, and that's good enough for me
Well I was born in a small town
And I can breathe in a small town
Gonna die in this small town
And that's prob'ly where they'll bury me...
~ John Mellencamp
Photo of taproot from Wikimedia Commons.