Barb Heller remembers her father through his garden

“Happy Birthday Dad!  This is your new Gardening Journal… to keep track of seed orders, the first plantings, the first tomato, the diameter of your sunflowers… also, your secrets of successful gardening… so I can set a few records!           Happy birthday with love…, B.”

Secong generation gardener Barb Heller’s high tunnel garden, in full spring regalia. Photo: Barb Heller)

Secong generation gardener Barb Heller’s high tunnel garden, in full spring regalia. Photo: Barb Heller)

This was my inscription to my father, in his new journal, on the occasion of his nearly-last birthday.  My dad loved to garden, indoors and out.  My mother always said Dad should have been a farmer (instead of a musician).  A day never passed during the growing season that Dad wasn’t in the garden; often just watching it grow, smoking his pipe, or holding a garden hose.

I grew up in suburbia.  Most neighbors had some sort of a backyard garden, and most of them looked to my Dad for gardening advice.  Dad had indoor grow lights, so he raised gloxinias and other tropical flowers, but could also raise beautiful vegetable seedlings, perfectly timed for transplant into the family garden.

Here’s his journal excerpt from November:

Nov. 1st: Took geranium cuttings; repotted cactus; turned on plant stand lights and heating cable.

Nov. 2nd: Planted “Dreaming Maid” tulips.

Nov. 11th: Double impatiens cuttings for rooting (in Jiffy 7 pots); planted Giant Swiss pansy seeds.

Nov. 12th:  First snow of the season.

Then, in December:

Dec. 2nd: Potted rooted cuttings of geraniums and impatiens; spread manure and sawdust on north end of garden.

Dec. 3rd:  Took (double pink) impatiens and geranium cuttings for rooting.  Snow again today!  Still picking (cos) lettuce from the cold frame.

Dec 16th: More snow.  Lettuce looks pretty sad, but still edible!

… and in January:

Jan. 1st:  Sowed gloxinia seeds.

Jan 5th:  Potted impatiens cuttings.

Jan. 6th: sowed parsley seeds (they take a LONG germination time).

Jan. 7th: Potted Christmas cactus cuttings, and sent Kelly seed and Henry Fields orders.  Sowed portulaca seeds.  

Jan. 19th:  Cuttings ready for potting.  Parks and Pine Tree orders arrived.  Sowed seeds for pansy (Swiss Giant),  sweet William, onion (Copper King), delphinium.

… And so the season goes. Dad wrote that he always expected the first tomato in July, but it never really materialized until August; that he will be ever-grateful to neighbor Clyde who roto-tills the garden every spring;  the first frost seems to come the third week in October…. And plenty of other tidbits that make for sweet reading all these years later.

My husband and I have a high tunnel – a non-electric, solar greenhouse.  We enjoy homegrown food all year, whether it’s the typical summer bounty of tomatoes and cukes, or the rarer winter pleasures of fresh chard, spinach, leeks and carrots from the high tunnel.

Our seed order has arrived.  We’re planning the garden, both indoors and out, and I always want to plant seeds a little sooner than I should.  I just can’t wait for spring to arrive.  The high tunnel is nearly empty now – and full of promise for the peas and greens that I’ll plant this week.  Just like heirloom plants, gardeners are just like their parents.  When spring comes, it’s time to grow.

How about you?  What are you planning  for this year’s garden?

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  1. Lovely. Brought a tear to my eye remembering my own garden-loving father.

    • Hello Ellen,
      Thanks so much for your comment. Are you (the author) Ellen Butz, husband of wood carver Dick Butz? My Dad was a HUGE fan of his show on public broadcasting – and never missed an episode.
      Thanks for bringing back another happy memory for ME!

  2. Darn you Barb! That photo has started a serious wave of high tunnel envy at our house.

  3. Ditto! (That's a nice looking high tunnel!)

    And how nice of you to remember gardening as a legacy each generation can pass along.

  4. I hedged my bets against a short growing season, and bought a CSA share for the first time. Although I will plant a few must-haves, like snap peas that my dog loves to help herself to, right off the vine!