The story below is an excerpt from our May/June 2015 issue. For the rest of this story and more like it subscribe today, view our digital edition or download our FREE iOS app!
"My garden is my favorite teacher." -Betsy Cañas Garmon
I moved to the mountains of Virginia 30 years ago. I came to teach but stayed for love. Love of the mountains, love of the peaceful lifestyle and love for a farmer. My love for gardening took longer to develop. I had never grown anything in my life before I married onto the farm.
After the ceremony, my new husband, Joe, and I moved into our house. It was built in the late 1800s and not much had been done to it since then. After fixing up enough rooms to live in, our next task was to fence off a yard so the cows couldn’t peek in our windows. Joe suggested a modest area with a wire fence, but I insisted on an expansive lawn and a white five-board fence. As he agreed, he handed me a paintbrush and told me I would be developing a close and personal relationship with it.
That first year, I bought carloads of flowers from various nurseries and planted our fence line with what I hoped would be an artistic arrangement of successive blooms to accent the white boards. I watered the flowers and fertilized their roots and even sang to them as I tended to their needs, and they rewarded me by dying. Every new plant wilted and sagged and eventually succumbed. But, the grass was magnificent. It grew all summer long, and the paintbrush was soon jealous of my relationship with my lawn mower.
The next year, I tried different varieties of flowers. Perhaps I had made poor selections for my area. I also planted several bushes. Again, I watered, fertilized and sang. Again, the plants all died. Every single one. Outside the fence, a phalanx of orange daylilies mocked my efforts. They were natives, present when we fenced the yard. My vegetable garden, however, did well except for a streak along one edge, where again, everything I planted expired. I was puzzled and convinced that I was not cut out to be a gardener. I had a black thumb.
Then, one day, a visiting friend commented on my lush lawn and pointed to the black walnut trees lining the yard. “You know,” she said. “Walnut trees love grass, but they hate most everything else.”