Growing together

Joanne Westin waters the Cumberland garden.

When I was 3, my grandfather built a house on a new street. The houses were kind of small, but, at least at his end of the street, there was lots of land behind them. (Behind those properties now are the houses on Belvoir Boulevard, north of Cedar Road.) In that big backyard he created a garden for my older brother and me.

He bought us overalls, straw hats and little gardening tools. We planted vegetables and took care of them (to a degree, anyway; my grandfather did most of it). Then we harvested and ate the vegetables.

That was the last time I did any gardening, until I was 21. I moved to Columbus to continue playing music with a woman from there I’d met in New York City, and with whom I’d started a duo. I got a job on The Ohio State University landscape crew. The scene always resembled prison work-gangs in old movies. The campus comprises nearly 1,700 acres, on both sides of the Olentangy River, so there’s a lot to take care of. Turnover in that department was so great that, within six weeks of getting hired, I had already been put in charge of my own section of the campus.

What that meant was that in the morning, after the old guys had dropped off a sleepy, silent, scowling truckload of us young guys, I told everybody what to do for the day, accomplished a little of my part, and then headed into a tiny wooded area I’d discovered and spent most of the day there, reading, sleeping and eating, until the old guys came back around to collect us and take us back to headquarters so we could clock out.

Shockingly, though, I did, somehow, learn a lot about landscaping and gardening during that time. I created a garden at the house I shared with some other people, and I grew vegetables, which I put to use after getting fired from the landscape crew and learning how to cook while working in the area’s only health-food restaurant. That garden lasted for a couple of years, and I enjoyed it, but then I left Columbus and forgot about gardening.

About 10 years later, I married someone who does a lot of gardening. Not vegetables, at our Cleveland Heights house with its big trees—because we don’t have a large enough sunny spot for a vegetable garden—but flowers, bushes, trees and other plants, all around the front and back yards. As only the second owners (technically) of an old house, where an elderly woman had lived alone for decades, we (meaning: my wife) needed to do massive amounts of work to make the yards nice—or even usable, at first. At times I have been called upon to use my expertise in managing such tasks as digging holes, or holding a new little tree in place till it’s securely planted, or, occasionally, sticking my favorite flowers, portulaca, in pots on the deck, where we have also, in past years, grown a few tomatoes and jalapeño peppers.

That’s my gardening experience. My wife is the gardener here. Our grandchildren’s other grandmother, our son’s mother-in-law, Joanne Westin, is also an avid gardener. In fact, she turned a little plot of land at Cumberland Pool, a long-gone rose garden, along the fence by the parking lot, into a thriving vegetable garden.

A retired biology instructor, Joanne originally used the 600-square-foot space for a program she developed, starting in 2012, to teach kids about gardening and its related sciences. That program ran for five summer seasons, but in recent years the garden has evolved into one where Joanne and a few other adults grow lots of vegetables, which are all donated to the Heights Emergency Food Center, located at Disciples Christian Church on Mayfield Road.

There was no garden in 2020, because of the pandemic, but in 2019 the garden produced nearly 500 pounds of vegetables to donate.

“When we took over the space,” Joanne said, “the rose garden had been gone for several years. The city covered it with mulch every year, which undoubtedly contributed to the great soil there now. And that empty garden was just calling out to me as a goldmine site for a garden.”

So now, between their two grandmothers, my grandchildren are learning a lot about gardening. And without knowing about the garden my grandfather made for me and my brother, Joanne has created a garden for the grandchildren at her house, where they each grow their favorite vegetables. And, like a lot of gardens, and a lot of other things in life, this has come full-circle.

David Budin

David Budin is a free-lance writer for national and local publications, the former editor of Cleveland Magazine and Northern Ohio Live, an author, and a professional musician and comedian. His writing focuses on the arts and, especially, pop-music history.

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Volume 14, Issue 9, Posted 8:27 AM, 09.03.2021