Growing up in Washington D.C. was like growing up in a city that had everything a young person like me could do. One of the things I did each spring for many years was spend the weekends at my grandmother's house on 16th Street.
Grandmother's house had a huge yard and in the back yard she had several flowerbeds including a large round one in the middle of the yard.
In early spring, Grandmother would dress me in my warmest clothes to go out to the gardens. She would give me a hoe and I would start to dig up the weeds that had grown in the garden beds throughout the winter. Then she would prepare the beds, as she called them. My grandfather had a load of compost delivered. As she started to work on a bed she would send me for a wheelbarrow full of the rich black loam from the compost pile.
I followed her closely along stone paths, which wove through the gardens. As she stopped to break up the hard ground I would shovel in the loam which she would then mix in the rich compost soil. After the gardens had been prepared, which took the better part of the day, she would then seed in some places. She had boxes of fresh cuttings, which I would hand her. Grandmother seemed to know just where she wanted the fresh cuttings to go.
Each weekend we would go back to the garden. Grandmother would examine the beds. She had a sharp eye. If a rock or weed was spotted, she would call me and say "See that weed growing, go pull it up but be careful. I don't want you pulling the plant out with it."
The weeds and trash, or every now and then a fallen branch, were removed from the pristine beds. I watched her every move, carefully learning how to identify weeds from tender flower shoots. Each summer and fall, grandmother would plant different flowers according to the season. Each season she would change some of the flowers she was planting and the flower gardens would have a new look with different colored plants.
My grandmother knew how to bring new life to the gardens. Early spring brought pastel blooms that welcomed the warm sun. As these flowers began to fade, dogwoods and magnolias clothed themselves in abundant flowers, providing delightful aromas. Hyacinths added their colors as the primrose shone like jewels in the garden.
Warmer days welcomed colorful irises and impatiens. Freesia and heather filled the beds as honeysuckle beckoned the buzzing bees to taste their sweet nectar.
In the evening, my grandfather would have a cookout. His favorites were ribs, steaks and the old favorite hot dogs and hamburgers.
Later in the summer, we would have crab feasts. There would be a tub full of ice with beer for him, wine for my grandmother and cokes for me. Then we would sit around in the evenings and watch the fireflies, or as I called them, lightning bugs, which darted through the gardens as the sun faded into dusk. The dog days of summer brought colorful butterflies that I loved to chase from one garden to the next. Their bright colored wings winked at me as they fluttered by. I felt as if I could fly with them as I twirled and chased them on tiptoe.
When I first started to work with my grandmother in her gardens I hated it. Then one year, when I was about 12, I asked my grandfather why she chose me to help her. After all we were from a large family. He told me, "She picked you because she loves you and she trusts you a lot; she wouldn't let just anyone touch her gardens."
In all those years I worked with her she would give me a dollar here and there, but come Christmases and Easters she showered me with wonderful gifts.
Over the years I came to love working with her and the gardens that she created. Off and on I helped her with the gardens until I enlisted in the Army.
To this day I still remember fondly the feel of dirt on my hands and the smell of fresh turned earth. It smelled so alive.
Watching the bulbs push their way up through its richness and seeds burst forth with flowers, I observed how cuttings flourished and grew and saw the gardens come to life.
Whenever I see a beautiful garden I remember Grandmother and her wonderful gardens.