The gardens we grew up with inspire fond memories and shape our decisions.
OUR CHILDHOOD GARDENS lurk just beneath the ones we tend in real time. When asked what inspired their passion for plants, gardeners so often bring up memories of gardens tended by parents or a grandparent. Take Jackie Roberts, owner of the Pink Door restaurant in Pike Place Market. She orders seeds from Italy so she can grow, in her front garden in Laurelhurst, the same varieties of vegetables she so fondly remembers her Italian grandpa cultivating.
Lorene Edwards Forkner, editor of Pacific Horticulture magazine, roamed the greenbelts on Queen Anne Hill, where she grew up. “I wasn’t aware of gardening so much as harvesting nature: collecting big-leaf maple leaves, gathering horse chestnuts, picking blackberries and foraging (the neighbor’s) rhubarb,” she says. In junior high, her dad helped her dig up a swath of the family’s tidy backyard to plant corn. Forkner still grows food, and has written books about canning, preserving and growing vegetables. “These days, I find myself returning to nature — less dominion, a little more wild,” she says.
Plant Amnesty founder Cass Turnbull has fond memories of her childhood garden in Magnolia, but she loved the adjacent vacant lot, waist-high in wild grasses, even more. Here she enjoyed the breeze, the smells, the sun. “It seemed that all was perfect in my secret place,” says Turnbull. Even then she was protective of trees, worrying that her dad would hurt one when pounding in nails to build a treehouse. She felt like a friend had died when she came home from school to find a madrona cut down in the backyard. These memories run deep, influencing Turnbull’s quarter-century of tree advocacy.
Vancouver, B.C., nurseryman Thomas Hobbs is the anomaly: an obsessed gardener from a nongardening family. He grew up in the harsh climate of Winnipeg, Manitoba, but that didn’t stop this lifetime gardener from trying to grow cuttings taken from half-dead roses discarded in the alley behind his house. At age 4.
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“My family had zero interest in gardening,” says Hobbs. Yet when he was 8, his mom bought him a set of horticultural encyclopedias, which he promptly memorized. At age 12, Hobbs launched his horticultural career by selling marigolds and geraniums he grew from seed. After moving to Vancouver and graduating from high school, Hobbs started a plant shop. Forty years later, he is propagating and selling plants at his renowned Southlands Nursery, and writing a book on his current “20-acre paradise of a garden” in Langley, B.C.
When I was growing up, every Saturday, we kids were given a choice of helping with housework or working in the garden. I always chose tidying the house, because even at age 8, I could see that garden work was never-ending. Though I shied away from weeding, I loved our messy, semi-wild property in Lake Forest Park, with a creek rich in spawning salmon, a raspberry patch and a strip of woods that seemed plenty dark and scary. It wasn’t the individual plants so much, but the freedom and mystery of the garden. But I find myself growing many of my mom’s favorite plants, like Sweet William (Dianthus barbatus) and fragrant exbury azaleas in sherbet shades. My hydrangeas, as much as I love them, are puny compared to the ones my mom grew. Her deep-blue hydrangeas grew luxuriantly huge, fed a diet of manure from my dad’s racing pigeons. Some memories, like composting all that pigeon poop, are best left firmly in the past.