I spent much of my time growing up, especially my adolescent years, with my father in our backyard garden. We had this lust to grow things together. I would be home from school waiting for him and the second he got home, we’d be out there with our seeds.
Our garden wasn’t neat and symmetrical like the ones I’d see in my mother’s magazines. This was my dad’s messy space where he could smoke his Winstons and be a philosopher. I loved my father so much, I wanted to be him – cool and aloof, unattached, yet deeply tethered to the poetry of being. He was my first great love.
Dad was a busy man in those days and, like a writer trying to force out words, he stretched daylight to do what he loved most – farm. We share the “early to bed, early to rise” gene, so I fell into his routines with ease. It wasn’t difficult for me to choose hanging out with my old man over playing with the boys down the street.
Our hearts were wild and giddy for this garden we shared, and we delighted in each other’s company. We both yearned for belonging – my father in this country and his relationship with my mother, and I in my budding womanhood, which I found foreign and encroaching. As I came of age, I worried its proclivities would take me away from him, my childhood.
Planting together was my way of being nurtured by my father – of experiencing the great feminine aspect brought to life within him by nature. I in turn became a nurturer. I found myself growing attached to small leaves and flowers, daydreaming about them at school. It was the first time I felt capable of creating as a woman. Nature has a safe way of emancipating those sensibilities, that sensuality.
Our work in this garden had much to do with aging and renewal – his waning, and my waxing. My father and I were on parallel journeys. We were both coming of age, our humus was changing. We texturized the 45 years of earthly experience between us with tomatoes, gourds, okra, edible flowers, and beans. Love popped up spring after spring, renewing hope along lonely roads.
I discovered the meaning of relationships through co planting – the art of grouping plants who are natural friends, pairings that often seemed illogical to me. Onions next to flowers, that sort of thing. Like all living beings, plants have a unique alchemy with one another. They constructively respire what their bedfellows perspire in quiet commitment.
This forms a delicate symbiosis of small environments within a garden, a fragrant invisible ecosystem exhaling esters at dusk. Ask any gardener who has meandered in the final moments before the light slips away. The sweet scents are what bring you back the next day.
A gardener knows that the turning of the season is inevitable. As the days grow shorter, mates and friends begin to wither away. In California, the Santa Ana winds tear through gardens in a final act, shredding and spewing leaves once firmly attached and lush, mimicking the turbulence of the heart. It's the curtain call for the growing season.
My father would always anticipate my sorrow – “Don’t worry. That’s life. We’ll grow again.” As we both grow older, the words have taken on new meaning.