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Little Green Thumbs: A Family Legacy

Sharing a love of growing things with the next generation runs in our family. A short memoir.

In her family’s garden, my grand-daughter, 4, squats and tenderly pats soil on a pea that has bounced out of the furrow. She hums “Hush, Little Baby,” perhaps recalling last fall when we put the tulip bulbs “to bed” for the winter. A child humming lullabies to seeds … In my grandmotherly heart I freeze-frame a moment that a camera cannot possibly record, the best legacy I can hope for: sharing my passions for planting and music with the next generation.

A year earlier, my grandson, then 3, spooned soil into eggshells he had painted. Then with laser-like concentration he poked beans into their minute beds. And waited. And waited. Not easy for a preschooler. Days later when a bean plant emerged from the soil, little Batman paused, cape limp, to ponder before flitting off to his next adventure.

My own little thumb started to green up at a tender age, as well. I credit my family role models, living in the country, and green DNA. Dad taught me to plant radishes, a very satisfying crop for a child. In school I wrote about “sedes” that grew into roots, stems, and fruit or flower. I, too, patted soil into eggshells, marveling at the pumpkin seed roots that cracked the shell or the beans that one day uncoiled and sprung – pop! – out of the ground. The magic never failed.

Mom showed me how to take a cutting from coleus, place it in a juice glass of water, and wait for it to root. I don’t remember her potting it, probably to give to my aunties in the city, but I do remember learning to transplant during an episode of Ding Dong School, a preschool program hosted by Our Miss Frances. [This episode ran the next day

First, large rocks in the bottom of a pot with a hole. Then pebbles or gravel. Next, soil. Tuck in the plant, keeping it straight. Tamp more soil. Water. She also taught us how to make sweet potato and carrot tops leaf out by just sitting in water, which Mom and I did at home. These life lessons learned when I was only six, stick. How fortunate for me that my parents loved growing things and shared that love with me.

A few days ago, my granddaughter who sings to the seeds said: “Nana, that leaf is brown. You need to water that plant!” I felt too pleased to be chagrined. My teaching is taking root. ###

Invitation/Your turn

  • Write about an activity learned in childhood that still brings you joy. What sustained it?

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