My Father’s Backyard – A Journey Again in Time and Sunday Soup

Sitting in my parents’ 45-year-old garden, I am reliving a time when I was 8 years old. Not an auspicious day, really. My father was building a rock waterfall in the corner of our fishpond while mom planted ajuga and tropical plants all around the perimeter of the patio in our Northern California suburban home.

Splitting pieces of bamboo, not an easy task, Dad built a low fence around the planters to protect them from kids who might not value them as much. We spent our childhood years at that house, picking apricots, dipping our toes in the pond, smelling iris, sitting in the sycamore tree and taking for granted the hard-earned beauty around us in those hot summers as we drifted into adolescence.

New Digs

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In my late teens, our family’s newly built house sat on a large lot that was excavated down to clayish soil, barren of anything living. For me, it was a time to begin my launch from their care. During this tumultuous time of history, I returned home more than once, exhausted from trying to live an adult life in a chaotic world with my idealistic, childlike mind. With each visit home, I saw that barren property grow into a lush haven, with swaying trees, a huge lawn (in vogue at the time), shrubs, flowers, hardscape and again, a large harvest of vegetables every year. Once an arid landscape, this homestead blossomed with my father’s inherited love of gardening, and my mom’s diligent support.


In their golden years, a large home and yard was no longer a priority for dad and mom, but they found the best lot in an Oregon mobile home park and went to work. Together they transported and placed truckloads of river rock throughout the lot of their manufactured home, laying each flat rock carefully as a way to prevent weeds. They built stone surrounds for mom’s rose bushes, ferns, peonies and, of course, a few large beds for dad’s vegetable garden.

Living away in other parts of the country, I would visit as often as I could. Each visit was a revelation. In these last decades, dad was in touch with his gardener’s soul at the deepest level. Artful trellises supporting lush tomatoes, peas, and beans were as tall as his 6’1” frame. His grafted apple tree grew heavy with 6 varieties that became applesauce and pies. Strawberries, lemon cucumbers and flowers filled every un-rocked spot. With my mom’s support, they turned this senior-living space into a garden wonderland.


A ladle lifts a spoonful of soup above a pot

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Retirement slowed dad down only a bit. He continued to garden, and honed his expertise in several areas. One hobby that was particularly impressive was his soup! Even the grandkids loved his vegetable soup and it seemed to get better every year. It was usually a Sunday project and I think Dad was proud of his new hands-on skill in the kitchen, since he had left that part of life up to mom for many years.

His basic recipe using mostly his garden-grown produce was never reduced to measurements, so was probably never the same twice. Here’s my best guess:

  • 3-4 potatoes, diced
  • 1 jar of home-canned tomatoes
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2-3 diced carrots
  • 2 cups cut cabbage
  • Fresh garlic (lots)
  • Rosemary, thyme
  • Green beans and/or fresh peas, whatever green was available
  • A handful of spinach
  • Fresh corn cut from a small cob
  • Salt, pepper, water

Simmering on the stove, the phenomenal fragrance was deeply comforting, and the soup was delicious. The sense of deep peace and safety in their home was heightened by this amazing fragrance that is still so familiar to me.

Later Years

Pink roses in the sunshine

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As the years flew by Dad rocked over his garden beds one at a time until he was eventually down to one. Every year the lilacs and roses return, the rhubarb still grows and very little weeding is required – the yard is still lovely now, even without their attention and care.

I have lived in their home for the last few years, helping my sisters usher both parents from this life. As Father’s day approaches, I have a profound appreciation of the astonishing amount of work that went into every inch of this place, from the stone walkways to the magnolia and dogwood trees and all that has survived and matured.

There are still traces of the gardens my dad tended with an energy he drew from some unseen source – energy that kept him going for 93 years. At my own advanced age, I try to imagine how they spent almost a half-century making this place thrive, but I know it was the gardening that fed their souls for so many years.

The bees are feasting at the lilac trees. Mom’s roses are tense in their spring buds. Dad’s grapevines are burgeoning yet again. As I sit in their porch swing and listen to the deep silence around me, I feel their bustling, sweet energy everywhere.

I’m going to leave this place soon and let someone else enjoy aging in this lovely ambiance. I’m aware that my own urge to grow things and experience Mother Nature inside myself is part of my genetic makeup. So, happy Father’s Day, Daddy, and thank you for who you were, what you gave, and all that you left behind.

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