What makes a gardener? A blogiversary dedication

My grandmother and I in her garden, circa 1969

A couple of months ago, Carol at May Dreams posed the questions, “What makes a gardener? Do you consider yourself a gardener? How did you decide you were a gardener? When is the first time you referred to yourself as a gardener? Where and how did you learn to be a gardener?”

I answered in her comment section:

Though I’ve been gardening for 12 years, I don’t believe I ever referred to myself as a gardener until about two years ago. People who came over to my house might say something nice about my garden, and I’d say, “Thanks, it’s a hobby of mine.” What I didn’t admit—and what must have been obvious to the visitor—was that gardening was a compulsion for me, and that I loved it.

I began to realize that my interest was more than a hobby when people would see me reading a book like Stearn’s Dictionary of Plant Names for Gardeners or Jill Nokes’s How to Grow Native Plants of Texas and the Southwest , and they’d raise their eyebrows. One day I was going on about some plant or another to someone kind enough to listen, and she said, “So, are you a gardener?” Without hesitation I said, “Yes!”

A year ago today I started blogging here at Digging. At first I posted my best photos of my prettiest plants, adding notes about the plants’ habits and the weather. To keep a record of my garden’s changes and growth, I posted a backlog of photos and notes from earlier years (these comprise the 1st–4th years on my blog). I wrote to my favorite garden bloggers to ask if they would visit my blog. They did, and even commented, and I felt like I’d joined a club that I’d been wanting to get into.

Garden blogging connects me to a like-minded community. It’s social. It’s informative. It’s fun. It makes me think about gardening, the world, myself.

But it isn’t much related to being a gardener.

What makes a gardener? It was Carol’s first question, and I didn’t answer it. But what else could it be? You just want to grow things.

Maybe it’s in the genes. My mother has always gardened, from simple sweeps of annuals when she was younger to the exuberant cottage garden she tends today. And her mother—who scraped by in rural southeast Oklahoma—gardened as well, planting roses on her fence, moss rose in troughs, annuals in tire-lined flowerbeds. A quiet, mild-tempered woman, she’d shout at us kids to climb down out of her prized mimosa tree that smelled heavenly, worried that we’d damage the limbs. I understand that now.

My mother was her last child, a late-in-life baby. To me, my grandmother was always old and frail, her back eventually bent nearly horizontal from osteoporosis. Yet I remember her regularly hoeing and weeding her garden, wearing a faded dress and an old-fashioned sunbonnet like a pioneer woman.

My mother and grandmother, circa 1960

My grandmother died years ago. Her gardening legacy carries on though. My mother’s garden is a tumble of old favorites like hollyhocks, irises, lilies, and roses. When I talk to her on the telephone, I often picture her in the garden, checking on her plants or resting in the shade of a jasmine-covered trellis.

As they say, blood will out. Probably I owe my love of plants and digging to them both. And so, on my first blogiversary, I dedicate this post to my mother, June, and my grandmother, Demma, who taught me a love of gardening.

8 Responses

  1. What a lovely post to read on this cold morning, Pam! Thank you for sharing your three generations of gardens and gardeners. I find it fascinating that so many of the garden bloggers have a gardening grandparent.
    The drama of those red roses on the white wall is so simple but so beautiful, and your mom’s delightful compositions in color are such fun to look at – the name “June” is just too perfect for your mom!
    Happy Blogiversary from

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

    Thank you, Annie. Yes, my mom is definitely a June. That’s her middle name, but I won’t share what her first name is because she’s always hated it. She’s lucky she had a lighthearted, sunny-sounding middle name to choose instead. :-) —Pam

  2. bill says:

    Maybe it really is in the DNA.

    Gardening runs in my family too. And my mom and grandmom both kept cats, and were avid quilters, like my wife. Recently I was showing a guest some carpentry work I was doing around the house and they asked me why I did this myself instead of hiring it done. I remember my father and grandfather both adding new rooms onto their houses when I was a child. It never occurred to me that I could not do it too.

    My grandfather (on my dad’s side) did household carpentry too. Like your male relatives, I think he also added a room onto his house by himself. Now that’s a handy gene to inherit! —Pam

  3. June says:

    What a wonderful story on such a bitter cold morning. It brought tears to my eyes and joy to my heart. I’m sure your grandmother is smiling down from heaven. Thank you sweetie, mom

  4. Carol says:

    What a wonderful blogiversary post. Your mother’s garden is so bright and cheerful and colorful, wonderful to admire on a day when we are in the depths of snow and cold. I can see where you learned to garden! You are definitely a gardener, and you really couldn’t not be, with genes like those.

    Well, thank you, Carol, for the inspiration for this post. —Pam

  5. Jamie Alexander says:

    Hi Pam, I really enjoyed your pictures especially the ones of Grandma. Your flowers and plants are amazing. I think some of your talent may have come from your Aunt Lenora too. Keep up the great work and I will be enjoying these great pics more often.
    Your Cousin,

    You are right—Lenora was another gardener in the maternal line. Thanks for visiting me in cyberspace! —Pam

  6. Bill Lane says:

    A wonderful post for your first Blogiversery. I don’t know about gardening being in the genes. But rembering the wonderful results our parents reaped in their often simple gardens is inspirational. Once you’ve grown up in a garden it’s hard to live without one.

    Thanks for stopping by, Bill. You are so right. —Pam

  7. Kati says:

    Lovely story. Now I have started wondering about my own gardening genes. My paternal grandmother? I remember bits of her gardens. My maternal grandmother died when my mother was a young woman so I know very little about her gardens, a necessity perhaps, if not a passion. My father likes gardening and is always puttering about with plants.

    It’s nice to think about our own roots while we’re thinking about our plants’ roots, isn’t it? —Pam

  8. Julie says:

    Dear Pam,


    and that photograph of you and your grandmother Demma before the huge orange climbing rose is spectacular!!

    My grandfather was a gardener of vegetables and loads of gladoli and zinnias in Bourbon County, KY. I thought he was scary but loved being in his garden with him. Both my parents grow things, inside and outside, too. Thank you for making me think with gratitude of this.