Editor’s Note: This column, written by Smith County Master Gardener Tommie Grinnell, appeared in Texas Gardener Magazinie. It is reprinted with permission.
I rounded the corner in my local big box store and came to a screeching stop. There it was! A harbinger of spring! The rack of seed packets that promised a bountiful harvest and a luscious flower patch. The sight reminded me of my grandmother, an organic gardener well before her time and an expert at sustainability before anyone even knew that word.
Round about January, we would find Grannie studying the various seed catalogs and marking her choices. Her favorite supplier was the Gurneys Seed Co. She’d make a long list of vegetables such as tomatoes, cucumbers, peas, beans, okra, corn, peppers, squash and always include at least one of the new varieties offered. In those days Gurneys offered a children’s seed mix for one penny. Grannie always ordered a set for me.
When the seeds arrived, Grannie started her tomatoes and peppers in the greenhouse in anticipation of spring planting. She always had enough for her garden and our family’s gardem as well. My grandparents had a patch of about a quarter of an acre, which included a stand of peach and apricot trees. There was an apple orchard at the back of the property and several mature pecan trees as well. With that kind of a setup, my grandparents and their neighbors ate very well.
Grannie was convinced that any poison that would kill insects and other animals wasn’t good for humans either. She studied the latest in organic methods available at the time and determined that her garden would be free of pesticides. Part of this was the desire to provide pure food for her family, but she wasn’t averse to saving a dime either.
We tried to use beneficial insects to keep down the pests. I remember how exciting it was to receive a can filled with ladybugs, which would be released into the garden. Of course there were always worms that managed to infiltrate the ears of corn, and my brother had a wonderful time chasing me with any he found.
All summer long we were kept busy tending the garden, picking the food and “putting it up.” Depending upon the produce, it was either canned or frozen. But even in the midst of all of this labor, my grandmother took the time to create and enjoy her flower gardens. Her front yard was planted in wildflowers and was amazing in the spring. She had a bluebonnet patch that actually stopped traffic along Highway 80. After the flowers seeded out, then my grandfather was allowed to mow again.
Grannie also had an old-fashioned flower garden that she lavished with care. There were lilies, gladiolas, zinnias, marigolds, lantana, trumpet vine, honeysuckle and others forgotten over the years. Grannie provided flowers for the altar St. Joachim’s church in Clyde for many a year. One of my earliest memories involves my grandmother showing me how to separate and transplant day lilies to our home. Those few lilies soon filled our front flower beds and remained there showing off for a good 30 years.
Despite having grown up in the country, I had no plans to return there after college. While I enjoyed fresh vegetables, I had no real interest in growing more than a couple of pots of tomatoes. However, flowers were a different proposition. As I moved across the state from College Station, to the Panhandle, to the Gulf Coast, and finally to the Houston area, I always had my flowers. At one home, I planted a garden of more than a hundred roses. Sadly, I had gotten far away from my grandmothers organic roots. I sprayed pesticide so regularly that I requested a chemical gas mask for my birthday one year.
Our last move was to Tyler. There I had the opportunity to take the Master Gardener classes. How my grannie would have loved the classes. Shoot, she could have taught some of them. I sure found out that she knew what she was doing when it came to gardening with natural pest controls and fertilizers. To Grannie, sustainability wasn’t just a catch word, it was a way of life.