Monday, March 21, 2016

Gardeners by nature

Is there such a thing as a gardening gene? If there is — and personal experience proves it likely — three of my four kids have inherited it from their green-thumbed dad.

My husband in his element:  In the garden, tending to his veggies

My husband Ralph has always had a way with plants. I might scatter seeds in the ground and a few will come up, but when Ralph does the same thing, the soil explodes with a flush of vibrant new sprouts. It’s as if each seed knows exactly what my husband expects and responds accordingly.

“He wants us to grow,” I imagine them saying. “So grow we must!” The result is a bed of the happiest, healthiest plants they can be.

Happy gardener, happy plants

The notion of a gardening gene came to me following a recent visit to our daughter Amber’s house in Winter Garden.

“Where’s Amber?” I asked my son-in-law after he and our grandchildren greeted us at the front door.

“She’s out back in the garden,” Scott replied, a phrase I’ve used many times myself referring to Ralph when visitors came to call.

We made our way through the house and out the back door into Amber’s suburban expanse of flowers, herbs and vegetables. The word lush only begins to describe her colorful assortment of floral displays.

One small part of Amber's colorful backyard
flower garden (photo credit: Amber Boas)
Tall perennials flank the wooden privacy fence separating their yard from neighbors to the rear and on both sides. In front of these colorful and often fragrant perennials are smaller, equally impressive blooms. More plants — ornamentals, herbs and pollinator-attracting specimens — grow along the house’s exterior wall. Orchids hang from tree branches while bees and butterflies hover nearby and birds flit about above. In the middle of the yard to the left of the kids’ play set are a pair of freestanding wooden planting beds that Scott built for Amber’s vegetables.

My four-year-old granddaughter Trillian tugged me toward the vegetable plot while Ralph and Amber, oblivious to Trillian’s high pitched plea to show me the sugar snap peas, already were engaged in an intense session of shop talk: How much fertilizer did you use? What kind of soil mix? How often are you watering?

After Trillian and I sampled a few sugar snaps and she showed me the carrots that are growing — an impressive patch — we meandered over to the swings to join up with my grandson Atom who seemed more interested in what neighbor kids were doing in the front yard than what was going on in the garden.

Trillian and carrot

While Amber’s knack for gardening impresses me every time I visit, she’s not the only one in the family who has a way with plants. In Western Massachusetts, our daughter Jenny and her husband Brett grow enough cucumbers in their fenced in plot to fill their pantry with pickles.

In autumn, they harvest greens, broccoli, carrots and other veggies to satisfy their family’s needs for a good part of the year.

When you're little, a vegetable garden can seem like
a jungle. Maya and Ella wander through
their family's garden in Florence, Ma.

Our son Timothy shows an equally remarkable aptitude for gardening. When he used to live at home, he always had a garden, and the plants he grew rivaled those grown by his father. Even when he is wandering the globe, as he is so often doing, he travels with a gardeners soul, spending considerable time hunting down exotic locations where he can pick jackfruits, mangosteens and coconuts directly from trees.

The only one of our children who seems to lack the gardening gene is our youngest child, Toby. While our 24-year-old son appreciates homegrown food, he’d rather eat someone else’s harvest than grow it himself.

My husband’s mother was an amazing gardener and while Ralph may have absorbed some of his mother’s expertise by osmosis, I truly believe his ability to grow such incredible plants is an innate part of his nature.

My mother-in-law, Mary Boas, was an
accomplished physics professor, textbook author
and amazing gardener

Nature or nurture is an age-old question, and while no one knows for sure if a gardening gene really exists, to some of us, it’s a moot point. Anyone whose family history includes several generations of expert gardeners knows that some people are simply born with the ability to bring plants to life.

Our family is lucky because we have several such people. As for those of us who weren’t born with those proverbial green thumbs, we’re lucky too. We reap the benefits of our soil-digging relatives. We live next to edible plants, sweet aromas and beautiful flowers. While our thumbs may not be green, there’s no dirt under our nails either. It’s not a bad trade at all for a side dish of broccoli florets or a pretty bouquet of flowers.


  1. Love the story of your family of gardeners a gift that keeps on giving when passed on to the future generations. Even if one doesn't inherit a green thumb you can certainly inherit appreciation of growing things.