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Gaining ground: how gardening connects me to my roots

Jun. 8, 2017
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Some of my best childhood memories involve my mother’s hands guiding my tiny fingers to pat down dirt around a variety of baby plants in my grandmother’s garden. It wasn’t until I was fifteen that I really got my hands muddy to revive those flowers. When my mother and I moved out of her house in fifth grade, my grandmother was too old to take care of her garden, so everything except her rose bushes shriveled up in the heat.  

We moved back in to manage the house after she died, although I knew that Hanukkah wouldn’t be the same without her letting me win at dreidel. What’s more, even though we’d finally moved back to my childhood home the summer after eighth grade, I was still closed off, preferring to read or play video games instead of leaving my room to interact. Worried about starting high school, I shut myself away to cope with what I saw as impending doom.

One day, when I was out of books, I ventured out into the backyard to find weeds and junk covering the flower beds. The front yard, random rocks strewn everywhere and dried leaves cloaking the ground, was even worse since it was more exposed to the sun. I recalled the steps that my mom had taught me about gardening, like digging lots of room for the roots to stretch out, but with these decrepit grounds, I didn’t know where to start. Yet, remembering how much my grandmother smiled when she saw the new roses in spring, I knew I had to try.  

Planning to create a home garden from scratch was a lot easier than actually doing it, of course--I had a long way to go before the plants were as healthy as before. So I started out by researching what flowers grow best in Southern California. After that, I decided to plan my garden so that it was as drought-resistant as possible, while still producing lots of food and flowers. To prepare the dirt, I soaked the weed-ridden ground with water so they’d be easier to pull up, and I waited until dusk so I wouldn’t be burnt to a crisp in the sun to weed. For most of that July, I was so covered in muck by the end of the day that I could hardly tell the difference between my legs and the dog’s. My mom noticed my sudden energy, inspiring her to help me by building a rock wall to level the planting area. 

With my mom’s help, I planted the new flowers and covered the seeds in a wet paper towel so they’d strengthen up before putting them in the ground. Little did I know, at the time, that it took weeks for seedlings to sprout--weeks I spent sweeping up the backyard. By the time school started, I’d created a fine routine of caretaking and studying, nursing the garden back to its glory. 

Through revitalizing the garden, I realized not only that two generations of women before me had maintained fresh food for their families, but also that in continuing this tradition I could find peace from the stress of school and life in general by taking time out of my day to tend to my plants. I also learned that there’s more than one way to practice faith and culture; even if Mom and I don’t always make it to temple for Shabbat, the pomegranate buds are blooming in our backyard just the same as they did thousands of years ago.