Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

August 1, 2013

My green thumb genes

Carrie Stambaugh
The Independent

ASHLAND — Both of my grandfathers died before I was born, but I like to think that together in heaven, they conspired to give me a gift:  a love of gardening.

I grew up with stories about my grandfathers’ green thumbs told to me by their children and spouses, whose own passion for growing things was inspired by the men they loved. I, too, fell in love with growing things, not only because I had a knack for it, but because it made me feel closer to my loved ones, even those I never met.

My father’s dad, John “Whitey” Kirschner, was a farmer. He grew up on a farm and raised nine children, feeding them from his livestock and massive garden.

I used to help my dad on our small farm, and while we staked tomatoes or picked corn, he’d spin tales of his father's gardens, which he worked in as a kid. “Your grandpa could grow tomato plants 10 feet tall,” he’d say, sharing the secret was cow manure mixed into holes he planted the tomatoes in.  

I can’t stake a tomato now without thinking about my granddad or my father. I wonder if Whitey is up there, shaking his head at my haphazardly staked plants, which never seem to rise above 6 feet. I’m sure, judging by what Dad has told me about the man’s sense of humor, he’d have something smart to say about me using horse manure instead of his preferred bovine droppings.

While I tend my vegetables, I can’t help but think how nice it would be to have him there with me and Dad. Then I think I’d settle just to have spent at least a single season learning under Grandpa’s master guidance. I’m sure he would have known the best way to partner plants in my tiny raised beds and why my squash won’t set.

Then there are my flower beds, inspired by my mother's parents, Elmer and Jane Thielmeyer. I never saw Grandpa’s flowers, but Grandma’s are unlike any others. They are always full of different colors and radiate love and warmth. They are organized and well tended, while my flower gardens tend to be a bit wilder and unkempt.

“Your grandfather was the gardener,” my grandmother will only say when I ask her about gardening. Among his favorite plants were what my family calls Naked Ladies, a type of lily. I don’t remember them in my grandmother’s yard when I was small, but they must have been there.

I learned this only after I planted some bulbs and my mother spotted them blooming the next summer. She laughed as faint tears formed in the corner of her eyes when she told me they were his favorite and that one year, a brother kicked all the blooms because he was mad at their father.

Now, each summer when the pink blooms suddenly burst from the soil unannounced, I think of my grandpa and pray he is enjoying them, too.

CARRIE STAMBAUGH can be reached at (606) 326-2653.