Father, son bound by love of gardening – Charleston Post Courier

If a love of gardening and plants can be inherited, I inherited mine from my father. He was a gardener his entire life.

Each year my father was in charge of the family vegetable garden. We started with peas (green), lettuce and radishes, followed by carrots, red beets, onion sets and cabbage transplants. Then we seeded rows of green beans and sweet corn and hills of cucumber and muskmelon.

Gladiolus bulbs and zinnia seeds were planted at the end of the garden closest to the house. We had a strawberry patch and a row of red raspberry bushes.

My father fostered my love of gardening at an early age. When I was 6, he gave me my own row in the garden where I could plant anything. As a budding gardener, I preferred novel crops: Indian corn, popcorn, lima beans and anise.

When I was 10, I made a scrapbook of dried, pressed Michigan wild flowers. As we were driving the back roads, my father would stop the car and climb down into a drainage ditch to retrieve specimens such as swamp milkweed or ironweed for my collection.

My father wanted to be a farmer. For almost 20 years after he finished school at eighth grade, he worked the family farm with his father. The farm, however, could not support his growing family, so in 1962 he took a job on the assembly line with General Motors, working in a hot, noisy environment instead of the outdoors he loved.

He continued to farm part-time until the year after my grandfather passed, when he realized that he could not do such a demanding job alone, so he rented the farm to his second cousin, the neighbor across the road.

My father’s favorite job was the first off-farm employment he had. In the fall, after most of the crops were harvested, my father worked for a landscaper. Much of what my father knew about landscaping and ornamentals he learned from his boss, a transplant from Germany.

My father knew that large maple saplings could be transplanted bare-root from our woodlot to the front yard, but that this technique would never work with conifers, whose root balls must remain intact for them to survive.

He grew our beautiful Kentucky bluegrass lawn from seed and meticulously eliminated weeds in it. He relentlessly sprayed dandelion and what we called morning glory (officially known as field bindweed) and conscripted my younger brother and me as dandelion pickers to remove every flower before it set seed. Although I have abandoned his standard for my back yard, I still try hard to keep my front lawn as weed free as he did.

In his retirement, my dad turned his love of gardening into a small business. He grew chrysanthemums in the small field next to the house and sold them by the road for a few dollars apiece.

My father loved unusual houseplants. When he and my mother traveled to Hawaii during his retirement, he brought plumeria seeds home and successfully grew one. His 3-foot plumeria may not have been that happy growing in the dry, indoor winter air of Michigan, but even though the plant never had many leaves, it bloomed regularly.

When my parents visited relatives in Arizona, my dad brought back small souvenir cacti and grew them successfully by strictly limiting watering to no more than a tablespoonful per month. (I always overwater my short-lived cacti.)

Three of my father’s houseplants survive under my care, 12 years after his death. A pink-and-white African violet blooms every winter. A slow-growing sansiveria hasn’t changed all that much. A large snake plant, also known as mother-in-law’s tongue, lives in my office. Fortunately, I have improved my record with these tough-to-kill plants, as my wife’s plant did not survive my too-frequent watering.

As I remember it, the only plant that wouldn’t survive under my father’s care was saucer magnolia. He attempted to grow one several times. Even though he wrapped the young plants in burlap each fall, they wouldn’t survive the winter in USDA Zone 6a.

When I remember my father on Father’s Day, I am glad that we shared a love of gardening.

Anthony Keinath is professor of plant pathology at the Clemson Coastal Research & Education Center in Charleston. His expertise is in diseases of vegetables. He also is an avid gardener. Contact him at tknth@clemson.edu.


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