Garden Walks: The Journey of a Lifetime

I never thought of myself as an early riser. Actually, I used to cringe under my pillow as a boy when my dad would rise at 4 a.m. to prepare for the day. He always rattled around in the kitchen making a goliath-sized bowl of grits and a simmering pot of fresh brewed coffee. The rattling was his way of trying to rouse me up to spend some time with him. Sadly, more often than not, I would remain in bed.

His morning routine was predictable in the months of summer: a full pot of coffee, breakfast, a garden walk, and then he was off to work. My dad loved his vegetable garden. He grew big juicy “Better Boy” tomatoes, sweet smelling cantaloupes, crisp cucumbers, dark green zucchini, spring lettuce, radishes and carrots. He would walk the garden performing any number of tasks that the circumstance demanded; gathering the harvest, pulling weeds, suckering tomato plants, applying SEVIN dust, watering, fertilizing, etc. He cared about his garden. He loved to watch things grow. These garden walks were essential to the health of his garden and a key to his own happiness. He was a better person for having walked his garden each day.

Tragically, my dad never lived to see my gardening endeavors. He was killed in a senseless automobile accident when I was 12. His departure left a gaping hole in my life and for years we struggled to piece our lives back together. Our garden and our gardener were gone. But you know, life has a way of turning around. I grew up, married, had children and now have a garden of my own to tend. Now, I am the one up each morning at 5:30 a.m., rattling around to make coffee then grabbing my camera and pruners. I am out the door each day for my morning garden walk. We don’t grow vegetables. We grow flowers, in particular roses. We now cultivate over 60 varieties. The roses are all mixed in with an assortment of annuals and perennials that enrich our lives in many ways. My walks, like my dad’s are filled with activity. I blog weekly about my rose gardening adventures, so I snap pictures of the best blooms, deadhead spent ones, pull weeds, spray for pests or disease, pray for rain or my favorite activity, collecting blooms to share with friends and family.

When I look back at those years with my dad, I remember our final garden walk together, just two days before he was taken from us. We talked about how next year we would plant pumpkins and that it was time to turn the garden under for its winter rest. His words were filled with promise and hope. Gardeners live on the promise of “next year.” It’s the hope of things to come. This spring, my son and I worked in the garden together. He helped me construct three raised beds for new roses. He’s not much of a gardener or an early riser, but I’m working on him. Life has come full circle.

Instinctively, I think some people are drawn to the earth. For many Alabama gardeners, the decision to get out in the garden, put your hands in the dirt and grow something is as much a part of who we are as what football team we cheer for. It’s an essential part of life. Gardening feeds us physically, mentally, spiritually and without our gardens, we would fail to live up to our full potential.


About Chris VanCleave - America's Favorite Rose Gardener

Christopher R. VanCleave – America’s Favorite Rose Gardener Nicknamed "The Redneck Rosarian”, Chris VanCleave is passionate about gardening and growing roses. He is an active member of the Birmingham chapter of the American Rose Society, serving two terms as President. In 2007, he created the Rose Chat Podcast which has reached over a half a million listeners with news and information on growing on growing the world’s most beloved flower, the rose. He was a contributor to the 2015 Southern Living Gardening Book, has appeared on P. Allen Smith’s Garden Home television show and was featured in the June 2015 issue of Southern Living Magazine. Locally, Chris serves as Chairman of the Helena Alabama Beautification Board where he has spearheaded efforts to create a sustainable landscape in one of the top one hundred places to live in the United States. His writing is seen at and on his popular website;, where he chronicles his gardening adventures and explores an intrinsic mix of life, faith and gardening. An agent of change with over 20 years’ experience in process innovation, Mr. VanCleave is leading the charge to reinvigorate horticultural societies and helping them to reach their full potential in the social media age.
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14 Responses to Garden Walks: The Journey of a Lifetime

  1. Holley says:

    Lovely story. It’s wonderful how gardening is handed down from generation to generation, whether it’s known at the time that’s what’s happening or not! I’m glad your father was so optimistic. We gardeners are always talking about ‘next year’, even though we know at some point we won’t be there.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Troy-Bilt String Trimmer & Jump Start – My Garden Walk Journey Continues | The Redneck Rosarian

  3. elenawill says:

    I love the connections between roses and people.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Garden Walks: The Journey of a Lifetime | Natur...

  5. Beth says:

    Your dad was an amazing man. I still miss him coming over and looking on the stove to see what my mom was cooking. I love you, cuz. Happy Father’s day to you.


  6. Reblogged this on The Redneck Rosarian and commented:

    My gardening journey began with my dad many years ago… I wrote this story to honor him….. #FathersDay


  7. Emily says:

    Beautifully written. Many of us have the same remembrances of our Dads! Thank you for sharing yours.


  8. Your words touch me deeply, Chris. I can feel the love you have for Dad in every syllable. And life does come full circle, doesn’t it? You honor him by being the person you are, every day and every way.


  9. FlorK says:

    Your dad knows and I’m sure he’s smiling down on you from heaven as you wake him up each early morning with your pot of hot coffee.


  10. I think your Dad would be super proud of all you have created and the love you give to many people!


  11. Touching post Chris. Your papa would be proud. I am sure he continues to walk with you every morning. And his beauty is in your words and flowers. xo


  12. newgirl says:

    I trace my love of gardening back to my daddy and his tomato plants he grew in a narrow strip of ground beside the garage. I’m new to your blog and I’ve been catching up by reading some of the earlier posts. Did I see that you’re from Tennessee, too? Thanks for sharing your beautiful story.

    Liked by 1 person

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