Every Sunday when I was young, my mother would wrangle my brother and I into the vehicle and we would drive into the city to go to my grandparents’ home for our weekly family dinner with all my aunts and uncles and cousins. Not being close with many of them, I usually hung out by myself, checking out all the plants and flowers my grandfather kept in his greenhouse or the progress of the vegetables in the garden in the summertime. At first it was to get away from the noise of my cousins and the thick cigarette smoke filling the house, courtesy of my aunts and uncles.
My grandfather, seeing me walk around his greenhouse, examining the labels he made for each plant or smelling the flowers, would join me, and with his lingering Dutch accent he would brag about the plant’s progress. And then he would explain any medicinal values the plant possessed, or where the plant originated from and grew in the wild. Or, he’d tell me about the plant’s germination period, or how he got the seeds, which were generally harvested from the previous year. Or how he snuck cuttings from plants he enjoyed, like the cutting he took from his mother’s geranium in the Netherlands and snuck back to Canada. A cutting that grew to become a phenomenally large and beautiful geranium. My mum took a page from his book and snagged a cutting from his geranium, which, in turn, grew large and beautiful. She then took a couple cuttings from her geranium and gave one to me and one to my cousin. And just like my mother’s, grandfather’s, and great-grandmother’s geranium, mine is thriving and beautiful, creating the fourth generation of geraniums from one single plant.
My grandfather could grow almost anything. He took it as a challenge to see how early he could plant his garden each year, often building temporary greenhouses around the more sensitive seedlings in his garden. From January to March, he would prepare his seeds in the greenhouse attached to his house. As soon as the ground was thawed enough to dig, he would plant everything he could. Everyone was always in awe of his garden and his flower beds, which took up almost every inch of spare space in his yard. When asked how he could seemingly grow everything with ease, he would smile and shrug.
My mum took after my grandfather and took to gardening with ease. On her acreage, she created a garden the size of a city lot and grows berries, herbs, and vegetables. And like my grandfather, she has a greenhouse attached to her house to start her seedlings. She too takes pride in her ability to grow almost anything. Like the avocado tree she started from the seed of an avocado she bought at a grocery store. Every year, my mum and grandfather would compete to see who could plant their gardens the earliest, who could grow the most interesting plant, and who could grow the biggest vegetables. Like my grandfather, my mother harvests her own seeds. And if my mum ever grew something better than my grandfather, he would jokingly accuse her of buying them from the store, claiming to have seen the receipt in the trash.
Once I purchased my own home in Edmonton, the gardening bug bit me hard. I joined the competition. My cousin joined in as well, on her acreage west of the city. We all show off and brag, teasing one another, asking to see the receipts from the one with the largest vegetables. We then share the seeds of large or interesting vegetables and plants, like the purple peas I grew.
Even after my wife and I moved and bought a house in Okotoks this winter, we still plan on continuing the gardening competition. But this year, we are taking it up a notch. I found a greenhouse outside of Red Deer that sells kiwi vines. My mother and I are each going to plant one and see who can grow the better kiwifruit. We are also curious to see how the slight weather differences will affect the growth of plants, such as the milder winters and slightly drier summers in Okotoks. Or, maybe it’s all about the gardener. I guess I could always go to the store and buy a kiwifruit if my mum’s vine grows better than mine and hide the receipt. But, hopefully it doesn’t come to that.