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.