Grow Your Garden

My father teaches me how to water plants and feed a family

“Water your plants diligently – either before the sun rises or after it starts to set and especially when the temperatures are high and there’s been no rain.” –Pasquale Di Meglio, my papa

I call my parent’s backyard “the jungle” for its overflowing greenery. During the warmer months, there are tall rows of tomato plants, patches of lettuce, pots filled with herbs, and cucumber and zucchini galore. Behind the garden is a brick patio with a glass table and chairs surrounded by tall trees for privacy. To the side of the garden there is a fountain with statues of everything – from frogs to pups. There’s even a big planter shaped like a donkey. A landscaper by trade, my father fancies himself an artist. Even though gardening is technically his job, it’s still also his hobby.

He probably picked up his first shovel around the time he started walking. His family sold homemade wine and vegetables to make a living in Ischia, a small island of the coast of Naples, Italy. And everyone pitched in – even my father Pasquale, who was the baby of the family. When he arrived in the United States at 13, he held many jobs. He worked in produce at the A&P, in a factory and as a gardener for his older brother’s landscaping company – all at the same time and while he was attending high school. Eventually, he graduated high school and gave up all of those jobs to start his own landscaping company. That was more than 30 years ago and he’s been running D&D Landscaping ever since.

Designing and caring for about 300 yards and gardens (some of which have included the creation of elaborate waterfalls that cascade into swimming pools and expensive stone walls or exotic plants) still wasn’t enough for him. His own garden is nothing like those that he creates for clients. And he’ll complain all week about the back-breaking work he does for customers. Then, on Sunday, he’ll work half a day, come home and go do the very same work all over again in his own backyard.

Outsiders can’t understand it. But papa’s garden is his paradise. He often takes his morning espresso outside near the vegetables. It’s his meditation room, where he goes to bird watch and think and dream. It’s more than a sanctuary; it’s a source of pride. He plays the game most Italians do. Whenever someone special comes over, they get a tour through the garden. “My tomatoes are bigger and redder than yours,” he’ll say. He’ll argue with my uncles, who have gardens of their own, until they agree. They always do.

But it’s more than natural beauty and competition that motivates him. His garden is more utilitarian than beautiful. We eat off his green thumb for months during the year. We have never bought tomatoes during the summer as far as I know. And we jar those bad boys for la conserva, which we then use all year as an ingredient in pasta sauce every Sunday and whenever else we have a craving for the good stuff. Every night, for as long as the warm weather lasts, we have salad with ingredients from the garden. There’s eggplant, zucchini, figs, beans, herbs – all used to create homemade meals that would cost a fortune if we tried to get them in a restaurant.

Feeding us feeds him emotionally. Maintaining our own personal garden and tending to the gardens and yards of others helps him put food on the table and support all of us and our dreams. That brings him peace. When he’s telling me how and when to water the plants, he’s also telling me how to raise children. Metaphorically speaking, he had to water me diligently so I would grow, too. One of these days, I’ll plant my own seeds and I hope I can provide as much tender loving care as papa has for his garden.

Leave a Reply