Down to Earth: Plant a Garden and a Child Will Grow

One man shares his childhood introduction to herbs and herb gardening.

| August/September 1997

People come to the love of herbs in different ways. I’m frequently asked how I became an herbalist, and I find it a difficult question to answer succinctly.

My love for herbs certainly grew from the strong influences of my parents and my grandparents, all of them avid gardeners, but there was another influence that cultivated in me this lifelong love affair with everything herbal: I was romanced into herbalism by all the elderly women gardeners in my hometown.

My parents had a small grocery store, and I grew up knowing every person in our tiny community through their patronage of our business. Each spring, I helped my father unpack the seed displays and fill them with seemingly magical packets of garden, flower, and herb seeds. I looked forward to the many customers who would visit the store specifically to buy their garden seeds.

Other customers, particularly the elderly women in town who did not get out much, requested deliveries. Since I was the only kid in town whose parents had a grocery store, it was my responsibility to deliver groceries and other supplies to them. When one of them would call the store, she would read off her grocery list to my mother, who would put her order together. I’d load as many bags as humanly possible in the basket of my bicycle. I even had a wagon outfitted to pull behind the bicycle for larger orders.

“Don’t stay long,” my mother would call after me as I pedaled away. She well knew that I considered visiting a little with each patron part of my job as a delivery person. These women were often lonely, often unable to drive or travel, often with grown children living far away. I never had any trouble getting them to talk about their lives, about the rich history of the area, and about the early days of our riverside town. What I loved most, though, was when they would talk to me about their plants.

They were all dedicated gardeners. Each one possessed a family’s wealth of gardening lore and practice, which she supplemented with information glean­ed from magazines and seed catalogs. Their opinions differed greatly—if I had brought them together for a meeting, there probably would have been an awful argument—but each one led me into her garden and sang me a different herbal siren’s song.

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