Dishing the Dirt in Zone IV

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As chairperson for the Garden History and Design committee at the GCA club level,  and currently the Zone IV New Jersey representative, documenting gardens for the Archives of American Gardens at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D. C., is of prime importance. It also plays nicely into my writing life.

Photos and the history of  our centuries old farm is documented for all to enjoy at the Archives of American Gardens at the Smithsonian Museum. Click on their website here .

Below is a project I initiated my club– one which I hoped would also help preserve and protect the story of  our members love of gardening.

See some photos from our first session of Garden Memoir Writing.

What’s your Garden History?

The Memoir Project

To know yourself is to know the place that grounds you, the place you call home. For all of us who connect with our home-place through gardening in all of its many disciplines and pleasures—plantings, conservation, landscape architecture, photography, horticulture—our practice is how we define ourselves through years of accumulated history in a place that sustains us. It is where we spend our days and where we raise and gather our family, where we feel most safe and at peace. Standing on terrain we truly know and understand is how we build a sense of place and create a familiar foundation and footing. It is what defines us as nature lovers, as gardeners.

We too, are perennial beings. We live, we die, and we rise again. As stewards of the soil, we come to realize the concept of everlasting life through our planting practice. I am always delighted each spring to see the return of decades-old day lilies my great-grandmother enjoyed on our farm in the 1940’s; or the arrival of the Bearded-Iris—the dozen or so bulbs her mother entrusted to her, packed in a valise, when she left Coburg, Germany for Hoboken, New York.

The story of these perennials is a part of my garden history—a legacy where my roots have been allowed to spread wide and deep and long. It travels in time through my childhood canoeing in Canada with my parents and picking wild blueberries by the hatful; and into my teenage years helping my parents tend their rock gardens of pink Mountain Laurel and ground pine on the granite outcroppings that surround their property in southern Connecticut; it extends through forty years spent walking the moors of Nantucket, breathing in the scent of Rosa Rugose of the ocean breeze, gathering buckets of beach plums for jelly, tending my in-laws violet, pink, and blue hydrangea around their summer house.

My love of nature is persistent, and when I look back, I realize gardening is at the center of it all. It is what has grounded me for most of my life.

This year, the Garden History and Design Committee invites each member of our garden club to give voice to the stories that make up your garden history. Through writing memoir, we will look back to where we fell in love with nature. Do you remember the first time you ran barefoot through the grass as a child? Probably not, but somehow your body remembers. It remembers your young carefree days of tag on the lawn, the smell of it freshly cut, its bright color in May. That distant memory started you on your long journey that created your unique garden history- one you will pass from generation to generation.

 MY OWN GARDENING “MEMOIR” 

I love to garden now, but I didn’t always. My father dragged all three of his children out of bed on Saturdays to pick stones out of his flower and vegetable gardens, down to the smaller pebble; pull singular blades of grass from between the prickly zucchini vines; weed my mother’s zinnia beds until we thought we’d faint from the summer heat (or so we feigned.)

When my husband and I bought Cedar Ridge Farm from my family in 1995, we began renovating the centuries-old property by cutting back years of overgrown brush. We  made endless trips to garden centers replacement shrubs and garden supplies, loading up the back of  our inherited rattley and rusted farm truck while continuing  to drown cut brush on pile that eventually reached  at least fifteen feet in high in corner of our back field. The Secret Garden was my favorite book as a child. It felt as if I was reenacting scenes from its pages.

Thanks to my father exposing me to gardening ( no matter how I disliked  it) and growing up outside both on the farm and in Connecticut with nature-loving parents, my hands, head, and heart quickly “remembered” what digging in the dirt was all about and I caught the bug in no time.

It became a daily practice and then a passion. Soon,  I couldn’t live without a daily dose. We own thirty acres with three around the house, which I maintain  seven perennial beds-some shade, some sun. The rest of the land is comprised of beautiful, healthy hayfields which we recently gifted to the New Jersey’s Farmland Preservation program. For at least 100 years, the land can  not be developed for building in any way.

You can also listen to the transcript of an interview about Cedar Ridge Farm with Jennifer Jewell of the North State Public Radio’s garden podcast Cultivating Place. Placed first out of six of the most popular garden podcasts in the world, according to the February 2018 Issue of Gardens Illustrated 2018, Cultivating Place is one of the sharpest tools in my potting shed.