“It takes a village to raise a child. ” – African Proverb
In her guest’s post, it was suggested that our exposure to Nature and the natural world around us in childhood is directly related to how we embrace these things as we get older. I’ve thought about this a lot since I first read it and the hypothesis certainly holds true for me. I’m sure my love of gardening and my reverence for Nature was forged in those formative years.
My father was always an avid gardener, surrounding our property with hedges of dahlias; planting spring and fall bulbs; starting flowers from seed. He had a small hothouse even when I was a little girl, over the years building a much larger one. How well I recall the smell of potting soil…the hothouse was a completely different atmosphere to me — moist, warm, steamy, earthy.
I was completely captivated by whatever magical process could turn hard, black seeds into the most beautiful blue of morning glories that wound their way up freshly painted trellises and tumbled onto the back porch — astonished by the richness of flavour of a new tomato, just plucked from the vine, warm from the sun. Why, the tomatoes we bought in the store weren’t tomatoes at all!
The small, seaside village in which I grew up and lived for most of my married life, was a “mining town”. Hundreds of families drew their sustenance from the Earth through the mining of barites and quarrying of gypsum. As huge trucks and rock wagons travelled through the narrow roadways like ants, sidewalks were constructed along the main street as a safe place for children to walk to and from school. These were not the concrete sidewalks that we see today, but rather well worn, dirt footpaths, just wide enough for one or two to walk abreast or for bicycles to navigate. Some days I walked, but I usually rode my little bike.
Along the one-mile route to the school, one passed many houses — some large, some small…some very old and grand, some newly constructed. There are so many anecdotal stories I could relate about my fascination with their gardens and flowers — many that I had never seen in my own yard.
I remember one house in particular where the most beautiful scent would waft out on the tidal breeze, so sweet that, in my mind, it couldn’t possibly be from a flower. Having been taught that you simply don’t venture onto someone else’s property without permission, I passed the house day after day, too nervous to investigate. Finally, my curiosity got the better of me and I was exposed, for the first time, to lily-of-the-valley.
There, in a shaded corner to the left of the entryway that you see in this Google photo, was a clump of the most enchanting blooms I’d ever seen — little white bells, so tiny and sweet that they must surely be tended by faeries! It must have made an impression all those many years ago, because I’m smiling now as I write this and I can still recall that WONDER.
There were many other homes that featured phlox, roses, feathery ferns, and vine-covered fences. Houses with window boxes and formal hedges and polite lines of trees, and those whose lawns simply sported clumps of colour in no particular order. They were all beautiful, and they were all mine to see.
As children, we communed with Nature on a daily basis. We ran along sandy beaches, cold water splashing our tanned legs. We climbed trees. We “mined” for treasure, using hammer and chisels on very unforgiving rock. Dandelions weren’t weeds! They were the brightness of Spring that could be made into chain “necklaces”. Winter wasn’t to be dreaded — those first frigid days simply meant that we would soon be able to skate on the same pond where, just months before, we had watched turtles sunning themselves. We were never bored. The world was just awesome.
I am still wowed by all those things. So, yes, I do believe our exposure to the natural world in our childhood definitely does influence how we embrace it as adults. And if, as the proverb suggests, it takes a village to raise a child, then perhaps, in my case at least, it took a village to raise a gardener.