The Magic of Gardening: Mom’s Lesson Takes Root

I don’t think of my mother as a gardener. To me, she is a planter. The house I grew up in started with an acre of bare dirt on a steep hillside, but Mom changed all that. For years, she bought bare root bushes and trees and planted them everywhere. Our neighbors used to tease her about all her sticks, but today that house has a forest of mature trees around it, thanks to Mom.

Mom did her best to share the love of planting with us when my sister and I were kids. Every year, we laid out a huge vegetable plot and planted our seeds one at a time. We did our best to keep up with the weeds and bring in the harvest.

“Gardening is like magic,” Mom would say. “You put a seed in the ground, sometimes a tiny, truly insignificant looking speck, and with sun and water it turns into a huge plant, with flowers, leaves, and even parts you can eat.”

The word “magic” should have gotten my attention, but vegetables were not my thing. I didn’t eat raw tomatoes until I was a teenager. Zucchini and broccoli seemed inedible. Growing vegetables had no appeal. If we’d been planting chocolate chip cookie bushes, then I would have cared.

Besides, gardening was hot, dirty work. I didn’t like putting my fingers into the soil. Who knew what was hiding in there? Worms, bugs, maybe even slugs. Shudder. Whenever I had to dig into the dirt, I held my breath, terrified I’d touch something icky.

The thing I liked best about gardening was getting the Burpee kid’s packet. For 99 cents, you got a single envelope containing a mixture of mystery seeds. I loved that there were big seeds I could recognize, like the corn kernel and the wrinkled pea, and tiny seeds that looked like specks of dust. I loved holding that diverse pile of seeds in my hand. Planting it didn’t seem necessary at all.

Fortunately, I am learning the joys of gardening as an adult. I eat lots of vegetables today that I wouldn’t even look at as a kid (including broccoli), and harvesting is one of my favorite activities. I love pulling zucchini off the plant and realizing that my bowl is already full before I’m done picking the ripe tomatoes.

Part of our harvest (2012)
Part of our harvest (2012)

I’ve also discovered the peace that comes with wearing gardening gloves. I don’t think I’m as sensitive about the bugs and worms as I was, but I wouldn’t dream of digging into the soil without putting on one of the many pairs of gloves I own today.

My favorite gardening gloves. Perfect for pulling up thistles.
My favorite gardening gloves. Perfect for pulling up thistles.

Mom was right. Planting seeds is magic. I usually gripe and moan about the work that goes into getting all our plants into the beds in the spring (Sorry, Kurt), but when summer is well under way, I am proud of our garden. I admire the giant plants that grew up from sprouts and am astonished every time I pick a vegetable off a vine. Their appearance is nothing less than miraculous.

It took Mom’s lessons thirty years to take root, but her planting skills are formidable. The gardening seeds she planted in me are sprouting and growing, blossoming long after you might think they were dead.

Just like magic. Thanks, Mom.


What about you? Do you garden? Did you as a kid? Did an adult try to pass on a loved pastime that you didn’t learn to appreciate until later in life?


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Kit Dunsmore

Kit Dunsmore has believed in the magic underlying the muggle world since she was a child searching for the Shetland pony pooka she was sure was hiding in her back yard. She learned early on that books were magic doors into other worlds, and that she could revisit a beloved character or place by opening the right book. As she grew, she decided she wanted to make magic with words, too. Today Kit writes about things she loves: poodles and dragons, witches and artists, quirky underdogs and loyal friends. Whether her setting is 6th-century England, the imaginary Twelve Kingdoms, or an art-obsessed version of modern America, magic always finds its way into her story. She enjoys turning fairy tales inside out and watching characters sacrifice everything to reach their goal, but she also believes in happy endings. When she isn't writing, Kit experiences magic by making things with her hands. Over the years, she's made quilts, fabric sculptures, collages, sweaters, and blank books. Her newest interest is learning how to spin her own yarn, a skill guaranteed to strengthen one of her many delusions: that she is a self-sufficient pioneer woman. She also thinks she is a hobbit, a witch, an artist, and a good cook. Living in the foothills of Colorado, Kit enjoys the giant skies and prairie landscapes which suit her need for wide open spaces. In addition to hiking through glorious scenery with her husband or imagining herself living in the Middle Ages, Kit works as a pillow for her miniature poodle and polishes the next small piece of her handmade life.

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