Dirty Girl Gardener Betsy

Dirty Girl Gardener Betsy

Elementary School Teacher, Reading Specialist, Mom of two boys,


“It’s my favorite thing to do.” I’ve said that a million times about doing work in my yard – and I guess it means different things to different people. Some grow vegetable gardens, some love to plant new annuals each year and mix things up. I grow memories.


My mother planted a large row of lilac bushes at the top of a hill in our backyard when I was a toddler. When the breeze would blow just right, I could smell them and it would calm me. I’m not what one might refer to as the calm type – so this is an important memory. My mother would always tell me that she had done that on purpose. She also had a wildflower bed next to our driveway that I have vivid memories of her standing in her 70’s style running shorts and kerchief over her hair with a giant fistful of weeds – swatting the bugs away. Her style was slightly different than mine – sort of haphazard and wild… I remember being confused about what were weeds and what were actually plants that would be left alone.


My paternal grandparents had owned the house before us and my grandmother would often remind me that my grandfather had planted that large evergreen tree in the front yard – and I would think of him often as it grew large and ominous – even years after he had passed away.


Just like I’ve filled my home with objects that have a story – it’s been important to me that a lot of the plants in the yard have a story. Most of the things that are planted came from someone – transplanted from someone or someplace that was important to me.


When my parents divorced after 36 years of marriage and sold the family home – I didn’t take pictures – I dug up plants. I took wild daisies, honeysuckle vine and day lilies. I took hostas, irises and probably other things too – that I can’t remember now because not everything survived the transfer. I wanted something that had grown and been vibrant when we used to be a family, I guess. Something that I could let live in a place where I now had a family of my own – where I could try and preserve some of the memories of my mom and dad working together to make the yard beautiful. I imagine my mom hunched over – wanting it to be done right – rushing to get things done before a soccer practice or lacrosse game. Thinking of how there’s something special about putting something in the ground and watching it grow. I remember whispering, “Yesssss” to myself that next spring after the transfer when I saw the tiny shoots coming up and I could be sure that they had made it through the winter. A beginning from an ending, I guess. I remembered the evergreen my grandfather had planted and maybe that is what spurred my need to continue things – after something had ended?


My garden is also full of transplants from my mother-in-law – from her home and from a family apartment house where we lived when we were first married. I have transplants from Islesboro, Maine – where my mother-in-law grew up – each year coming home with something to try and see if it will “take”. I still can’t get the Lupines to like it in my yard. I will keep trying.


Most recently, I moved a small growing “firebush” that my grandfather carefully pruned, put in water and grew for me in a small pot in the yard. In his World War 2 generational way – he wanted to make use of that bush – not buying me my own – but growing a whole new one from his own. I know, the metaphor is sickeningly corny – but still gets me right in the gut.


When my maternal grandmother’s dementia was finally diagnosed as Alzheimer’s and we moved both of them to fancy elderly apartment facility… my heart broke a little bit more to see the last family home be sold that had any connection to my childhood. I dug up pachysandra and a small rhododendron – as well as some forsythia. It’s important for me to have these things – again – to covet things that have a story and to and to squeeze my Nana’s hand when she whispers to me, “I miss my house… I miss my plants.”


This is, perhaps, why I love to work in the yard so much. I love to separate and transplant and watch things climb and grow. I even let myself think that sometimes some of those plants have been near me and watched me age, make mistakes and become better. I now have more space than ever after finally making our small home much bigger and creating my “forever yard”. I have big plans to move some important things – to become more well-versed in how to encourage more growth – to more responsibly feed and nurture each plant based on what they need.


So… if anyone needs me – I’ll be out there with my gloves on… give me a honk on your way by.


Betsy G.

Contributor, Dirt on Dirt