by Charlene Burgi
I woke up this morning facing a major required task—going through what looked like a mountain of files. Needless to say, sorting paperwork isn’t my idea of an enjoyable job. The temptation was to put this dastardly deed aside and go to the garden to start pruning the fruit trees. After all, this is January!
Despite the garden tempting me, I stayed true to my list of priorities and tackled files belonging to my mom. It wasn’t long before I came across a file that she kept over the years containing old blogs that I had written. The self-discipline I exercised earlier melted into the pages she had saved.
The time spent perusing these pages and newspaper clippings caused me to reflect on the path I followed in life—and that path always led me through a garden.
As a child, I learned the value of producing our own food. Coming from grandparents with roots in Northern Italy, garden knowledge flowed as freely as the wines they made in their barns. The need to garden seeped into my very soul, and it all started by watching my family take care of the soil. Nothing was planted until the soil was rich in humus, and nothing was wasted. Chickens, rabbits, and pigeons provided food for the table and also supplied the best tea a garden could ask for. Manure was hauled in from local ranchers who were delighted to share their wealth.
Winter was a time to let the vegetable garden rest and to lift the planks that lay between the rows of vegetables. The planks prevented the well-tended soil from being compacted, which my grandparents knew was not healthy for the plants.
Seeds were saved in the fall harvest to use the following spring. Early in the new year, I remember watching as the garden was double-dug. It was almost time to insert the hard little saved seeds into the rich earth where the seeds magically transformed into rich green leaves that promised another hefty harvest.
Gardens were hand-watered. The slow deliberate stream of water filled the trenches on each side of the planted rows. It didn’t take long to water the large gardens. The rich soil, amended with well-rotted manure, absorbed and saturated the root system in no time at all.
My garden experience didn’t stop then—it grew as I grew. In my idle time I scouted out any garden article I could find. I attended garden classes taught by revered people in the industry. Little did I know at the time that one of those teachers was my future husband’s father, who owned the nursery where I was employed many years later. Jack’s father, Jack O. Burgi, also knew the old-country methods of landscaping as he was born and raised in the Swiss Alps. It was only recently that we calculated his home in Switzerland was less than a hundred miles away from where my grandparents lived. He worked for the Hearst Family at San Simeon and the Hearst Ranch in McCloud. The 1939 World’s Fair found him moving all the full-grown trees onto Treasure Island and then moving them on to Alameda Naval Air Station after the fair. He was known as a landscape engineer, and his old-fashioned feats were taught to both of his sons. In time, they taught me more as I watched full-grown trees moved successfully across town. Irrigation, drainage, and grading added to the vast knowledge I acquired from these men.
Working in the nursery was a glory in itself as each day held a lesson to learn about various plants and their care. The need to stay ahead of customers found me immersed in the nursery library where Bailey’s, Hortus, and books too numerous to mention were at my fingertips.
It would take a book to hold the knowledge that I picked up along the garden path. The scraps of paper found in that file reminded me that being sidetracked can offer time for gratitude to those no longer with us. Those stolen moments renewed my resolve to complete the task at hand so I can play in the garden tomorrow.
May I suggest that you take a moment to stroll down your own memory path? It could make your day seem much brighter.