Field Notes

Bloom Where You Are Planted: A Garden Memoir

Late last year, my wife and I packed up everything, said good-bye to our friends and family and moved just two hours away. Even though Kansas City is close to our beloved Columbia, it may as well be on Mars right now. Our new-found activities are on-hold due to the coronavirus. Until further notice there is no more volunteering at the bicycle collective for me, no more sewing classes down the street for Lisa nor any more eating out allowed at one of this cities’ many low- and middle-brow restaurants to which we are drawn. I feel cut-off from the world around me. You too, right?

And here’s how it all sounds.

One thing the virus can’t stop is my gardening. Spring’s here. Lisa asked recently: ‘What it is like to have the urge to garden every spring?”

“Doesn’t everyone feel that way?” I asked. “They do not,” she replied.

Comparing the dates of when I started my vegetable seeds this year and when I did that last year it was within 2 days. It’s a primal push I feel to get some plants growing about now. But where did that come from?

From a young age, I gardened. As a kid, my single mom would shuttle my brother and I to our grandparents’ house when she went to work. While mom brought home the bacon Heath and I played, roamed and helped Grandpa garden. Lambert Burkemper had a garden in his yard that was I’d guess 40 feet wide by 80 feet long. Each spring, he staked off rows and tilled dirt piles high again for the planting of tomatoes, potatoes and beans. He had limited variety in what he grew. Growing up in a family of 12 kids he aimed for maximum annual harvest. I helped him plant seeds, hoe weeds and gather the harvest.

My grandparents died too young and their garden along with their house was eventually sold to a U-Haul rental office that also has storage lockers. Alas, my grandfathers garden site now grows storage spaces as small at 5x5x8 feet that rent for $64.95 monthly.

As a young man, my interests turned to cars, girls and college. Gardening fell off my radar. I didn’t garden for years after leaving home. After college I bought a house with some friends. It wasn’t a question of to-garden-or-not-to-garden rather what space to allocate to what plantings. Our raised beds of corn and garlic and squash upended my notion of long rows featuring one plant, a model I learned as a kid watching Grandpa religiously tend his plants.

Years later my wife and I lived adjacent to her parents’ property. They have several acres in the middle of town and the back corner of their lot is wooded. An old garden space required clearing invasive bush honeysuckle and fence re-construction. Though the years, I grew annuals there and eventually fruits.

The fruit focus came from my experience as a Peace Corps volunteer. From 2008 to 2010, Lisa and I served alongside folks in the southern African nation of Zambia. As an agriculture volunteer I saw what farmers grew and how the smart ones also grew woody plants near their homes. Fruits and medicinal trees are no strangers to Zambian hut-holds. These plants found a home in my garden landscape after we moved home post-service.

Over time my garden interests grew. My gardens included the basics (tomatoes and beans), the climate change winners (tomatillos and okra) and perennials (blackberries, elderberries and asparagus). The urge to grow plants sprouts forth in me each spring like a seed bursting forth into a plant. Home gardening requires some degree of faith in the future.

A few years ago, I found myself struggling to keep up with my large garden. My desire to garden had eclipsed my ability to weed, water and monitor each plants’ unique pests. How had my garden grown so far beyond my ability to maintain it? Perhaps it was the grand scale of Grandpa Burkemper’s garden. But where he had simplicity – one variety of tomatoes, one of potatoes and so on – I had complexity. Multiple varieties of numerous species were the norm for me in my large garden site. Empowered with this realization I shrunk the garden fence by 20 feet last year reducing myself to just 12 raised beds. These beds are a hybrid of my lifelong experiences with gardening.

What stories, people, plants and events make up your gardening history?

My neighbor back in Columbia is now care-taking my former (and hopefully future) garden site. For this year I will garden in the yard of the 1905 house Lisa and I share in KC. The house has hosted many lives including the owner of a long-gone taxi service. To host his cab fleet the owner paved most of the backyard and built a garage now gone. Over time, a slow creep of grass has covered some of the asphalt. This aggregate-filled Earth seems no place to raise my prized cucumbers, lettuce and dill, so this year, I will garden in a pair of raised beds and assorted large pots. I built raised bed frames from cedar planks that should be slow to rot and support the soil resting above the asphalt coating our piece of Kansas City, Missouri 64108. Soon, I will bring in garden soil.

Growing amidst asphalt: my 2020 garden challenge

Between now and mid-fall will continue my long-time love affair with gardening. My wife is not jealous since my affair will produces the large tomatoes and basil she craves. My annual garden goal: grow vegetables as consistently formed and as large as Grandpa Burkemper did and on a manageable scale.

The story you just heard is a memoir. That is a story about one part of a life. In this case, you heard the tale of my gardening history. The past few minutes didn’t cover my entire life rather focused tightly on one topic. Other possible memoir topics for this blog could include a history of my relationship with my wife, or my mixed history with being an alter-boy in Catholic school, or my history with bike-riding. There are many choices of what we can focus on when writing or telling a memoir.

What are your memoir topics? What stories would you tell to create a full memoir of that topic?

I’d love to plan a recording with you (or a loved one) where you (or they) talk about the history of your family, marriage, business, activism or the art collection that you will someday pass on to your kids and grand-kids. Reach out to me and we can explore the scope of the recording, when and where to record and how your memoir or life story would best be shared.

New to my garden story: cedar raised-bed frames.
Meanwhile, Roz the dog sleepily anticipates a squirrel.

Thanks for listening today. I’m Trevor Harris. Learn more about my work preserving life stories and audio memoirs by visiting me, check out RecollectionAgency on Facebook or e-mail me at

By Trevor Harris

I got involved in community radio back in 1990 and later worked in public radio. I enjoy listening to people's stories. Collecting them seemed like a logical marriage of my love of audio gathering and preserving the stories of those around me.

One reply on “Bloom Where You Are Planted: A Garden Memoir”

I love it! My favorite is the jaunty music and the way you advertised your business very skillfully at the end. You did a good job weaving in the Zambia thing too.


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