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Learning to Grow: Taking a garden stroll down memory lane

The benefits of a beautiful landscape are many. Increased property values, safer neighborhoods and a sense of pride in ownership are just a few.

Some gardens are designed with other specific purposes in mind: attracting birds, butterflies, and other wildlife; growing fruit and vegetables; or collecting plants like hostas or dwarf conifers.

Whatever the reason you garden, it can be so much more than a collection of plants arranged in pleasing or efficient combinations. If you include plants and garden décor that were once favorites of family members or special friends, your landscape can also be alive with memories.

As I walk through my garden in late spring, the peony covered with luscious red blossoms reminds me of my husband’s grandmother. She let me dig a clump long ago, and a single bloom transports me to her little country backyard lined with red peonies.

A cluster of bearded iris, given to me by my mother, takes me back to the days when we were “iris crazy” and spent hours thumbing through specialty mail order catalogs looking for new varieties we just had to have.

As I take a bite of the first-harvested kohlrabi – a vegetable similar to cabbage – I can feel my dad enjoying it with me. He taught me many lessons about growing fruits and vegetables.

A few special hostas bring fond memories of attending hosta conventions with my “hosta boys.” They nicknamed me the stealth shopper because it never seemed like I was buying a lot of plants, but their cars were always packed with my new finds on the drive back home.

Garden décor can also add special meaning to the garden.

The school bell from the one-room schoolhouse attended by my husband’s grandfather stands guard at the corner of one of our decks. Each year, a clematis tries its best to climb up the pole high enough to ring the bell.

A birdbath and bench that once sat under a tree in my grandparent’s backyard now resides in my shade garden.

Whenever I sit on the bench and enjoy birds splashing in the bird bath, I feel their love.

My sister and I spent many days at a family farm in Elizabeth, Illinois. As I plant summer annuals in the rusty trough that sits next to the old cultivator once used on the farm, I am a kid chasing chickens or rolling down the massive hill.

If you have children or grandchildren, begin to share your love of gardening. Plant some fast-growing seeds like radishes or nasturtiums and care for them together. Harvest and eat vegetables right out of the garden. Have kids help you cut some flowers and arrange them into a beautiful bouquet. Teach the joys of time spent in the garden, and you’ll become a part of their garden memories.

• Diana Stoll is a University of Illinois Extension master gardener for Kane County. Call the extension office at 630-584-6166 for more information.

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