Message From The Director
As the weather warms, talk in our hallway usually shifts from basketball (especially from our Carolina fans) to gardening. Where I grew up, gardens were not the normal backyard activity. We had one neighbor, a couple of older Polish sisters, who had a huge garden. My father insisted that us children work for them weeding their gardens and when we got older push cut their lawn with a rotary mower. He also insisted we never ask for a raise and take what they paid, 25 cents an hour for weeding and if memory serves me correct, $2 for cutting the yard. Perhaps, because of this, I have never really enjoyed gardening as an adult, although I love the fruits of other people’s labor.
I have discovered that my lack of gardening makes me unusual in the ranks of the park service. The people in our office and in our parks grow an astounding amount of produce, fruit and other things in their gardens. From gourds, pumpkins and heirloom roses, to moon and stars watermelons and brussels sprouts. Through the years hearing talk of tomato varieties, watering techniques, late season crops, dry weather and general garden joys, has made me feel almost ashamed of my lack of gardening. I do, however, think I know why so many people drawn to parks are also drawn to gardening.
Spring in parks is a magical time of year. The clouds of pollen begin to subside, and the big open winter spaces begin to fill in with the new green shoots of spring. Just weeks ago, what looked like dry dead limbs began to bud with young fragile leaves and blooms. Trees you last saw with large browning leaves begin to block the sunlight as their leaves unfold. It is change you can measure daily and easily see as you visit or walk the same trail from one week to another. Spring in a park shouts “fresh start” and “endless possibilities” for the season to come. It invites exploration and shared experience. In a park you get to experience a garden on a grand scale as it grows and changes each year and you get to share that experience with friends, acquaintances and even complete strangers. Our park personnel work hard to take care of these park “gardens,” removing dead limbs, performing controlled burns, implementing erosion control practices, directing foot traffic to prevent damage and so much more. As park people we are really just working in a large garden that we share with the world. The work we do provides us not only with job satisfaction, but also provides enjoyment for others, creating a beautiful space for people to connect with nature and each other.
This week I had lunch with some retired park staff and shared stories and tales of our work in parks. We lamented challenges and celebrated each other’s successes. The conversation and shared experiences connected us through time with each other and with the park service. As I reflected on this, it became apparent that this is also the connection that gardening gives us. We can share challenges and stories of how we made improvements and, in the end, celebrate with the fruits (or vegetables) of our hard work. Toiling to plant seeds from a marigold each year that came from a child’s class, planting beans your grandmother loved, working with your kids to plant something for them or any of the many other reasons for planting a garden, are really just a way to connect with each other and our shared experience.
So, this spring as I watch the magic of the parks unfold before my eyes, I will take a moment to reflect on what that new growth means to me. It is announcing new possibilities and exciting times ahead for sure, but also reminding me of all those who helped teach me how to garden in these parks and all those who have taken care of them before. I will feel more connected to those around me as we share the experience together and more appreciative of those before me that made it possible. Our parks are gardens for the people of South Carolina and all of her visitors. I hope you can enjoy them and connect with them again this spring.
Meanwhile, in what was likely an inevitable progression of hanging around these people, I am going to try to figure out why my tomato plants leaves are already yellowing.