Are green thumbs inherited?

I think there must be a gardening gene, yet to be discovered in some secret strand of our DNA.  My paternal grandmother created one of the most beautiful and extensive rose gardens I’ve ever seen (and I’m a devoted rosarian) in the small Pennsylvania town where I grew up.  In the midst of the Depression, newly widowed and with six children to raise, she began what was to become a horticultural heaven on earth that remains to this day — in the hands of a first cousin — a lovely, edenic refuge.

I first heard the call — and it really did feel like an almost audible cry from somewhere outside — at a place we were renting in the Berkshire Hills of Massachusetts 20 years ago.  It was a ramshackle, brown shingled Cape that had once been surrounded by traditional perennial beds. After several decades of neglect, however, the gardens had become grassy and weed-choked.

On weekends when I’d planned to relax and recoup from a hectic life in the city, I found myself on my hands and knees, pulling up bishops weeds, digging out a border, and plugging the holes with begonias, geraniums, impatiens — all the usual, generic suspects from the local garden center.  At that point I didn’t know the difference between an annual and a perennial — or that there even was one.  I just felt the thrill of a new infatuation — the yearning to know more and go deeper. I couldn’t wait to get up to the house on Friday nights — jumping out of the car as soon we arrived to check on my plants, often in the dark, by flashlight.

What I came to realize that summer was that — unrealized for many years and quite unexpectedly — I’d found a calling. I was in my mid-thirties, a late bloomer, but I felt a kinship with my grandmother that I never had as a child.  That reserved, proper matron and I shared a wild and unquenchable love.  We were both gardeners.


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5 Responses to Are green thumbs inherited?

  1. Liza says:

    From Sarah, via Facebook:

    loved this piece! It is a mystical thing, the strange hold that plants/gardens can have. A fig stump once spoke to me. A previous owner had cut down the tree and a single slim stem, with one leaf, reached from it. As I was hacking away at undergrowth, with my shears poised and opened, it said, “Don’t cut me. I’m something special.” And I answered back, “Okay. You better be, or down you’ll go.” The tree regrew at an extraordinary rate and was soon giving us figs that we could reach out and pluck from our backyard deck.

  2. Liza says:

    From Donna, via Facebook:

    Agreed. When living in Italy, I saw people tease the most wonderful tomatoes out of the nastiest soil I ever saw. Like the English, I think the Italians have a national green thumb.

  3. Liza says:

    From Ada, via Facebook:

    My Aunt Ada had wonderful flower gardens. Are cooking and green thumbing genetically linked?

  4. Liza says:

    From Jenn, via Facebook:

    I agree, 100%. DNA. My grandmother, also a Gyllenhall – Margaret Gyllenhaal, had an amazing gift/green thumb, as did my Mom. Mom still tends a tiny garden in Cairnwood Village outside her apartment. I think the joy and satisfaction you get from your garden is unmatched. Not that everything always turns out how you want, but that’s why it is also a journey, like life.

  5. Mary Cail says:

    Lovely blog! I have the same connection with my grandmother though flowers, but it’s in being able to arrange them, not grow them. My father-in-law was an avid rose gardener. I tried, but the first year the deer ate them all. The second year I killed them with too much bug spray.

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