Agronomy in the genes

Green thumb? Yes. Aside from our present north-facing patio, I can grow anything.

There are a couple things in particular that I love about growing plants: the genes and the hope.

It’s in the genes, my grandparents in particular:

* My grandfather who passed away young, whom I never knew. Grandfather had been an agronomist in the Caribbean Islands and Florida. In fact, that’s how he and Granny met – he’d been a boarder in her parents’ home while studying in Trinidad. Last year my dad and I went through Grandfather’s papers, including his 6-page resume and a letter of application for work.

* Granny, who cultivated a small jungle in the yard of her small suburban Florida home. I loved it there. She had orange and mango trees, thick groundcover and small weaving paths from one workstation to another. Her majestic staghorn fern, an air plant, was the size of a large man. This was not a kempt Martha Stewart garden; instead it was more of a balanced naturalness. Granny was not particularly organized and often took refuge in her trees, flowers and jungle – especially as she grew older and her mind became more scattered when faced with organizational tasks.

Granny worked as a crossing guard late in her life - once honored with a parade in her town.

Of Granny's pathways, this was the most formal - most were the width of your foot, trodden by her regular steps.

The gate into the back yard.

Orchids growing in sandy soil.

Fuschia-like flowers.

Fern-like flowering plant.

A smaller staghorn fern, about 2/3 the size of a man.

Two staghorn ferns that Granny was pampering, each approximately 2 1/2 feet wide.

* My other grandmother in a historic St Louis neighborhood, who kept roses and some indoor plants. After she passed away, Grandpa cared for all her plants, because it had been important to Grandma. I remember with quiet laughter though how Grandpa “pruned” Grandma’s pothos vine – Grandpa was a bricklayer and valued square corners and organization, not vines. So he simply pruned the vine into a compact, minimalist plant. After Grandpa passed away, I asked to take this plant, transferred her to a larger pot and gradually watched her stretch her now-long arms and breathe again more deeply.

(Interestingly, in my husband’s homeland of Nepal, the pothos vine is connected to Laxmi, the goddess of wealth. Pothos are grown in homes for luck – and it’s considered good luck to steal a piece to start your own plant growth in your own home.)

And then there’s the hope. Plants give me such hope. I regularly reuse soil and pots. And every summer, there’s at least one plant who sprouts again – one whom I’d thought was lost, who’d died a year or two previously.

Plants give me hope for my dreams. Just maybe, when our dreams appear to be lost, maybe the seeds are below the soil, still growing unseen.

- Brenda Gurung


  1. Brenda, This is just a beautiful entry. I love the photos - I think Granny and Grandpa were such a handsome couple! I especially loved the photos of Granny's garden. The only photos I have are in my mind, and when I look at your photos I was transformed back to that garden. When I was a girl I so enjoyed exploring the paths of low foliage and climbing the avocado tree. I did not realize you had some skilled agronomists on your side of the family also. I'm happy to hear that the gift of agronomy was passed to the next generation. You grow girl!

  2. Oh, Patricia, you've brought tears to my eyes - am so pleased that this post brought back such fond memories. When I last visited Granny, I took tons of photos, hoping to preserve her amazing garden.

    I'd forgotten about the avacado tree - will be curious to see what other memories our family has of Granny's garden.

  3. Great to know you are good with plants. Keep it up.

  4. Oh, Brenda! How I loved your plants on Oleatha. I was so sad when you gave them up to go to Seattle. I often think of your plants when I groom my own! (Sadly, I am on my third Jade plant, though it is doing much better than the other two...I have a mother-in-laws tonge in the pretty Chinese pot you gave me with my original Jade!)

  5. Lauren, you bring such a smile to my face - thank you.

    I often remember the Oleatha flat with fondness (minus the drafty winter and cockroach summer!).

    Thanks for the remembrance, Lauren.

  6. I don't think Grannie ever wore jeans(genes). The thought of it makes me smile. They were too mundane for her.
    I've seen first hand your ablility to coax growth out of an almost non-existent plant. You don't just hope they will grow, you expect them to grow.
    Some of the roses your Grandmother nurtured were from roses planted by her father-in-law 40 yrs before. Do you remember that he "planted" horse manure so that his young grandson would have a horse? One day a small metal horse showed up.
    Then there was the plant he grew to preserve the fruit(?) in alcohol as a topical healing remedy. That is suspicious.

  7. dug the new post, brenda. amy has been determined to make the orchid i gave her last year bud again. i wasn't so sure but here we are a year later and there are new leaves, a new stick, 6 flowers and many buds in wait. she does need to repot...sadly one of our other plants did not make it through the winter and it was a very hardy plant typically but her delicate orchid did, so yeah hope. loved the pictures as well. pictures should appear tomorrow.


  8. One other thing. One of Grannie's
    huge ferns has offspring in the
    St.Louis area because another granddaughter has her "green thumb."

  9. You have a green thumb? And a cooking site, too, now? Holy Smokes. In my ten years of marriage I have succefully killed dozens of plants. They fear me. And the plastic ones are looking pretty nervous these days. I blame it on my mom. She has a black thumb, so I guess you could say it's in my genes...Glad to have found your site - Shelley clued me in. I'm trying to get her to join me in the blog world, but she's digging her feet. She still hasn't figured out facebook, so this could take awhile. -Misty

  10. [laughs] Very clever, Misty. Plants probably tremble at the sound of your name, yes?

    Thanks for sharing... and your encouragement.


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