Spring time is for planting gardens. That fact was drilled into me from earliest memories. My mother, Dorothy Hoehne Fahr, was the true master gardener. My own garden is a very poor example. It’s raised beds in a suburban lawn. But my mother’s garden was a resplendent massive plot of rich farm land about 100 ft by 50 ft. It included nearly every vegetable our climate would allow. There were rows of corn and melons; watermelon and cantaloupe. There is no fruit on today’s market that comes anywhere near the taste of her cantaloupe. There was a perennial field of asparagus that grew tall and beautiful. And bushes of sweet blackberries. Of course, there were always resplendent tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers which I can grow today. But her vast space also allowed for rows of green beans, zucchini and okra. I remember once in my teen years, mom asked me to make vegetable soup from the garden. I picked tomatoes, onions, corn, okra, green beans and zucchini. Best soup ever.
This amazing garden didn’t happen just by chance. My mother put exhausting effort into preparing the soil and careful planting. She always started by driving her little tractor to the cow pastures and collecting manure to enrich the soil. To that she added several loads of compost from the greenhouse massive compost pile. That was all carefully tilled then added whatever she felt the soil needed, like lime. Sometimes I thought she could just look at the soil and know what it needed. Rows were meticulously marked with string. She charted where each plant should grow for maximum sun. I remember carrying buckets of water to water to each mature plant and carefully scraping dry earth over the top.
My mother’s garden expertise didn’t come from formal education. She only went as far as eighth grade. She learned her trade in her father’s fields working alongside her beloved brother, Ted. Farm girls in the 30’s were more likely taught to cook and sew, not work the fields. But Ted taught his sister everything he learned. So, she drove a team of mules, like her brother, and when they bought a tractor, she drove that too. Even though she could sew like a professional seamstress, she always preferred working outside. She was never happier than when she was in her garden. She loved to garden and I think it loved her back. In all my years of gardening, I don’t think I ever once got a tomato or pepper to produce as she did.
Spring always brings back lovely memories of my mother’s garden. She would be happy that I try, at least, but she would be even more pleased at how her grandchildren have taken to gardening. Maybe today’s sun is her up there smiling.