As a kid, my memories of a backyard garden are somewhat vague, and honestly, none too pleasant.
For me, summer was meant for baseball. Every day in June and July, the script was already written: wake up, grab the glove, bike to the baseball fields at the old fairgrounds in Durango, then play, practice and pull weeds (this was before child labor laws, apparently). After the game, I’d go to a buddy’s house for a good two hours of whiffle ball and be home by evening for a round of catch with dad.
That was it. My world consisted of a ball, bat and glove.
The garden was merely an obstacle to the game. If the batted ball reached the tomato plants, then it was a ground-rule double; the makeshift greenhouse was a foul ball; and if it was whacked to the raspberries, well, then the game was usually over and it was time to find a new ball.
But in 1981, it all changed.
The family took a vacation to Grandma and Grandpa’s house in Beulah, Colorado. Not too long after the fluids had cooled in the Oldsmobile Omega, my parents kissed our foreheads, waved and headed back to Durango. Maybe they wanted to subject us to a week of “granny boot camp,” or maybe they needed a vacation from my sister and me, or perhaps it was simply them wanting us to experience something new during our summer break. Regardless, I was not too happy about being away from my friends or baseball. The thought of drinking Grandma’s diluted Kool-Aid from an aluminum glass for a full week still makes my teeth hurt.
After my sister and I got settled, I soon learned that a) Grandpa knew how to play baseball (what a relief!), and b) behind the house, next to the tire swing, was Grandpa’s garden. Man, that garden was big, and that soil was black. As children, the dirt was best used to paint our clothes, but as a gardener, it was pure gold, and Grandpa knew it. It was in this garden where he was always happiest.
He was proud – proud of his space behind the house that he bought, in the town he helped support. He would talk while the kids darted in and out of the two-story corn. Not sure what he was talking about or whom he was talking to, I still remember the excitement in his voice. I recall sitting on his knee, shucking beans, him smiling and kidding me about my (lack of) technique. And for once, baseball sat in the dugout while vegetables took to the field.
Baseball continued to be there every summer until I was 17, and I am pretty sure that the week away when I was 9 didn’t set my skills back that far. Grandpa Mickey died a number of years later, and if my memory serves me, so did the garden. There are no photos or journal detailing the crops behind the house. For all I know, the garden may not have been big at all.
Fast forward 35 years, and gardening – and baseball – are still in our lives. Ask Beth or Elena, it’s way too much baseball; ask Asher, and it’s not enough baseball and who cares about gardening. Me? I want a bigger garden – you know, the kind you lose baseballs and hours to.
Darrin Parmenter is the director and horticulture agent of the La Plata County Extension Office. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 382-6464.Darrin Parmenter