They say becoming a grandparent is transformative. That the explosion of love brings out a side you never knew was there.
But I never dreamed that the love of grandchildren had the power to transform my husband into a gardener.
Because until very recently, Mike Abrams wasn’t just disinterested in what grew out of the ground. He was literally unconscious on this topic.
For years I was the enthusiastic gardener in our household. Every spring I’d spend weeks coaxing my perennials back to life after the brutal winter. I’d dedicate a couple of marathon weekends to planting scads of colorful annuals, spreading mulch, and generally whipping things into shape. Did I ask for help? Nope. I knew there was less than no interest on Mike’s part.
All I asked was that he notice and admire the results.
Every year, after the last plant was tucked in the ground, the last pot filled and placed just so, I’d try to drag him away from the TV to have a look.
“I’m done!” I’d exclaim, “Come out and see!”
“Do I have to?” was often the reply.
Can I just say that this little exchange had all the explosive force of a can of soda shaken before opening?
And I’ll also say that in nearly forty years of marriage it’s one of the few things we ever fought about, so we are pretty lucky. We also squabbled about building a fence, the one I thought we needed to keep the deer from turning my garden into a buffet. The fence that Mike thought was a total waste of money.
Then along came grandchildren.
Last summer, out of the blue, Mike said, “Don’t you think the kids would enjoy growing tomatoes on our deck? We could plant a few pots, it would be fun.”
Well, I’ll be damned, I thought to myself.
So off we went to buy new pots, dirt, plants. The kids loved helping, loved watching the tomatoes grow. They were thrilled to pluck ripe tomatoes from the vine and devour them. But nobody enjoyed it more than Mike.
Last fall, while strolling through a beautiful public garden in Nova Scotia, we wandered into a section designed for accessible gardening. It was composed not of garden beds in the ground, but gardens planted in long, rectangular containers above the ground. The containers were bursting with vegetables and flowers.
Mike was captivated.
“Look at these!” he exclaimed. “We could set up a bunch of containers like this and call it “The Nana and Popsi Grandchildren’s Garden”! What do you think?”
What did I think? I wanted to know who this guy was and what he did with my husband!
Actually, I was delighted.
He continued the conversation over dinner.
“We could set the containers on the basketball court,” he said, referring to the cement slab next to the back yard.
“Great idea!”, I replied. “But.... the deer. They will devour everything. We would need a real fence,” I added, certain that I’d just uttered the deal breaker.
“You’re damn right we need a fence!” he declared, pounding the table for emphasis.
And sure enough, within a few weeks, a contractor was in the back yard, taking measurements and writing an estimate. An early freeze was all that prevented the fence from going in last fall. “You’re first on the list for spring”, the man promised.
I was not at all confident that Mike’s interest in the grandchildren's garden would last through the long winter. I figured the early frost killed my one chance of getting that fence.
But I was wrong.
Over the winter, Mike kept talking about the garden. He researched where to buy and—wait for it—how to build the containers.
One early spring day, the guy who never built anything came home with precision cut boards and corner pieces. He assembled the containers himself. A few days later the fence was installed.
A couple more weeks passed, and it was finally warm enough to get the garden ready. First, the containers had to be filled with dirt. Lots of dirt. Hundreds of pounds of dirt. Mike brought the dirt home in forty pound bags. About eighty of them. As he lugged the bags down the hill to the garden, I said, "Why don't you use the wheel barrow? That would be easier for sure."
To which he replied, and I kid you not, "We have a wheel barrow?"
All the while, our grandkids were watching the garden take shape, digging in the dirt, excited to help. At last it was time to plant. Their eager little hands planted tomatoes and cucumbers, zucchini and eggplant, peppers and beans, plus a few more plants whose tags were misplaced, so that produce will be a surprise.
Everything is growing and thriving. The plants. The kids. The brand new gardener.
I watch him in amazement.
He's a natural. Not because he's all green thumbs- there's a learning curve for that. But because it takes love to help a living thing grow, to nurture it, protect it, and enable it to flourish. That's the love that Mike gave as a parent, love that finds new expression as a grandparent.
And love that eventually found it's way into a grandchildren's garden.