Gardening, to me, is intuitive. And yet it isn’t something to which words flow easily. I can write about houses, and places, and styles of architecture, but gardening is something done, a retreat from thoughts, the clamor of the world, and sometimes, a retreat even from myself. Gardening is what I do to escape from the computer, from deadlines and chores, and reality.
Recently, though, a friend inquired if I planned to write more about gardens and gardening – after all, “gardens” is in the title of this site! Guilt set in… and then I stumbled across mention of something truly wonderful – the Smithsonian Museum’s Community of Gardens initiative.
This effort – a preservation of “vernacular garden heritage” – is the Smithsonian’s “digital home for stories about the history and meaning of gardens and the gardeners who make them grow.” This is a collection of stories about the gardens that we all know and love – an interactive and digital way to preserve the history of gardens in our communities – a simply thrilling project!
Here is what the site says about garden stories:
We are asking for your help in preserving the fleeting history of gardens in our country by contributing images, stories, videos, and oral histories related to gardens and gardening. User-generated material forms the body of this participatory archive. Accepted garden stories will be accessible to researchers, students, and the interested public through the archive and could become part of an exhibit or featured on Smithsonian Gardens’ blog and social media feeds.
A good story tells us about the gardens and green spaces that matter to YOU. Stories can be told with images, audio, and videos, too.
- What is your first memory of a being in a garden?
- What have gardens taught you about yourself, your family, community, or the natural world?
- Why did you decide to create a garden? What makes it special?
- What was the first plant or vegetable you ever grew? Why did you choose to grow it?
- Why do you think gardens are important to the neighborhood where you live?
- Are you a member of a community garden? What is your community garden’s history, and what role does it play in your community?
- Do you have a favorite public garden? What makes it your favorite?
When I checked the Community of Gardens site, there were no submitted stories from Kentucky. If I know anything about the Bluegrass, we teem with stories – especially when they spring from the soil. I haven’t written my story yet, but I’ve started collecting stray thoughts. About weeding in the vegetable garden after supper, and how when it got really hot, my father would pull all of the peas up by the roots, putting them into large metal tubs, and we would pull them off in the blessed coolness of the shade. Summer meant green beans, topped with tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash (all from our garden), accompanied by a piece of greasy, delicious cornbread my mother made in the cast-iron skillet.
Flowering bushes all had stories – the lilac that came from “down home,” my mother’s girlhood home on the Salt River. The sprawling peonies, their heavy blooms thick and fragrant, came from the farm in Bath County. Tiny yellow primroses had been cultivated by my paternal grandmother, and I could always count on a row or two of dancing, ebullient zinnias alongside the vegetables in the “big” garden.
I am so glad I started questioning my attention (or lack thereof) to gardens. Excuses poured though my mind when I acknowledge the deficiency: When I am able to steal some time to dig in the dirt, I find myself so replete that writing isn’t a need. And while I love to peer at other people’s gardens, I am not sure how I would translate their vegetative visions into interesting reading. There there is that tiny whisper at the back of my mind that I’m not a “real” gardener, as all I have is my small front and back yards, which I must share with rampaging English Cocker Spaniels.
So I will dedicate more thought to gardens in the future, and hopefully any gardening readers will take up the call and contribute their garden story to the Smithsonian. If you don’t feel like you want to take the time (or aren’t inclined to write it down), contact me! I would love to meet you and tell your story – I want the rich history of Kentucky gardeners to be well-represented.