Wednesday was the first day of spring. After the cold and snowy winter, the new season is very welcomed into my world.
I am more of a warm-weather person, preferring not to wear layers of clothing or driving on ice or slush or shoveling snow. I love having the windows open at my house, ushering in fresh air. Spring and summer give me energy.
So a few weeks before spring began, I started thinking about gardening. It's a nice distraction from the long, dark days of winter. The seed catalogs arrive in my mailbox around the first of the year, but I don't give them much of a glance. I quickly scan their pages, but it's too early. But once we changed our clocks, and the daylight became longer, gardening is all I've been envisioning. (It's also a nice diversion from thinking about things like my taxes possibly rising more than 6 percent on July 1. At least, I'll be able to feed myself with my garden bounty since my disposable income will shrink.)
Gardening always was a big pastime in my family, especially on my father's side. I heard that my maternal grandfather, who I never knew, had a small garden behind the ramshackle garage at the house on the Old Post Road in Southport. He arrived in this country from Italy in the early 1900s and spent all of his life being poor. A garden helped to feed the family of 12. I do recall seeing some signs of his one-time garden when I was a child visiting Grandma Rose.
But my paternal grandfather, Poppy, was the family's real gardener, which always was a surprise to me since he spent his formative years and his early married life in New York; first, in Manhattan, then in Queens. My father and his family moved to Connecticut ("the country," as the New York relatives called it) in the 1940s and settled in a big Dutch colonial with a huge back yard.
Poppy, who had no real formal education and ended his schooling in the eighth grade, was a successful businessman, but I think he really wanted to be a farmer. At the house in Norwalk, there were chicken coops at the far end of the back yard. He raised chickens for eating and chickens for eggs. I don't remember any of it, and by the time I was old enough to run around the yard, the coops were empty, except for a few remnants of his chicken-raising days.
But I do remember his garden. It was a masterpiece of agriculture, engineering and design. All the rows of plants were perfectly aligned. He built special stakes -- they looked like open teepees -- that he used for the tomato plants and the beans, which climbed up the wooden structure. He spent hours toiling in that garden every year, weeding, staking, watering, nurturing it. He had piping dug underneath the ground for a water faucet placed right at the top of the garden so he didn't have to drag a hose around the yard.
And he did all this wearing dress slacks, a crisp white shirt (the kind worn with the suits he went to work in every day) and a straw hat. I can still picture that straw hat. The house had a three-bay detached garage, and he used two of them -- one for his Cadillac and one for his garden supplies and tools. I still can see him sitting on a canvas chair, the straw hat on his head, fiddling with some new invention.
A lot of those garden tools now are in my garage, some of them more than 50 years old and still usable. My interest in gardening obviously came from Poppy. While he and I never really talked about gardening, I learned by watching.
My father tried his hand at gardening, too, once we moved to Weston from Norwalk, but his endeavors never really were successful. He had a constant battle with the deer that roamed in the woods behind our house. But my father found his true gardening calling in growing tomato plants from seed. On a whim one day, he thought he'd try it. (By the way, Poppy only used plants that he grew from seeds he started long before spring arrived.) After some trial and error, Dad got the hang of it, and his tomato plants, while not the most attractive specimens, yielded considerable bounty. He gave the tomato plants away when they were ready to be placed in the ground. I usually got the most.
One time, a visitor to my house was in awe of the tomato plants in my garden. They were lush and green and full of tomatoes. And, oh, the plants also had grown 8 feet tall (how I longed for Poppy's tomato-stake structures). Dad was so proud.
I've been gardening at my house for 15 years now, but it hasn't been without obstacles and challenges. I've had to battle stifling hot weather, bugs, woodchucks, rabbits and lack of time. At the end of each season, I ask myself if all the effort is worth it. But then at the beginning of spring, I can't wait to get started. I love it.
Time to look through the seed catalogs. Happy spring.
Patricia A. Hines is a Fairfield writer, and her "Hines Sight" appears every other Friday. She can be reached at email@example.com. She also can be followed at http://blog.ctnews.com/hines or @patricia_hines on Twitter.