I will never forget my first little garden. We had just moved to a rural part of the state of Virginia and my husband was working close to 100 hours a week as a small-town family doc. I was longing for children and yet running into roadblocks there. I spent my days on our five wooded acres with some measure of lonely ache, searching for something to fill the emptiness I often carried.
Source Image: Emily Shepherd
There was a widow who lived down the street who had been married to a German officer during World War II. He had been sent as a prisoner of war to the United States and was so impressed with how well he was treated that he and his wife immigrated here when the war was over. She had been working for a Baroness at the time in Germany as a housemaid (yes, like Downton Abbey!) and had spent all her life growing gardens. Now her husband was gone and she lived alone in their ranch house also sitting on 5 wooded acres in our small neighborhood.
I would walk our dog past her house many times and find her in the front yard hard at work. We began to strike up many conversations on a large range of topics. I told her that I thought I would like to try my hand at gardening, and she invited me over to her rustic garden that she had etched into the slope of their backyard. We began to spend many happy hours there, her with a unique waddle from two aging knee replacements. She could not bend them very well, and so when it was time to plant seeds, she would take a long handle, poke it into the soil, and drop the seed from standing height. Where there were pests, she remedied that with a quick squeeze between her finger and thumb in her large working hands. I began to call her “Omi”- German for grandmother. We would take breaks and linger over “kaffe and kuchen” ( coffee and cake, a German afternoon tradition). Her thick German accent, combined with the richness of her strudel and the warmth of her whole person, combined to create just the place that I knew I had been looking for. This widow and this barren wife had found each other in the garden.
My husband built us a deer fence around the first two raised beds we created to start gardening at our house. The beds were only about 6 inches high and probably had the worst soil imaginable for I struggled to make things thrive in them. The sunlight was not ideal as the tree line from the woods was much too close and would only grow closer every year. The native red clay made any soil work a tedious and thoroughly staining event, and yet I was hooked. I nurtured my plant babies while my womb remained empty. I prayed for a child while I planted seeds. The child eventually came and the garden of my longing years grew and thrived. I would carry her out into it, introducing her to all of its wonders, and stand in awe of the light it brought to her face.
My gardening friend is now gone from this world and my miracle baby is grown and flown, but I still think often of those tender, aching years, each of us reaching out to a garden to heal, satisfy, and inspire. And my daughter just got a tattoo of strawberries for her fond childhood memories of plucking them right into her mouth from our garden. Thank you, Omi.