by Carly Glover
I think it is typical for most young people to come to the consensus that knowing your way around a garden is a skill geared mostly towards the older generations. I can attest to this, because my very own grandma had one of the most magical backyards I’ve ever seen (admittedly, I may be a bit biased). Nana Carole had a healthy mixture of just about everything in her garden. Bushels of colorful morning glories lined the sidewalk, climbing leafy green vines scaled the porch beams, and mighty tomato plants produced the juiciest fruits I have ever eaten. She really had it all. However, the plant she was famous for in the neighborhood was the one she loved above all plants: the wild strawberries.
In early spring, when the snow melted away and the grass returned to its rich green color, Nana Carole would first tend her wild strawberry patch. Nana Carole’s strawberries were half the size of cultivated strawberries, but her fruits were rich in flavor. I always jumped at the chance to help her whenever she made strawberry jam (She usually had to swat my hand from the bowl once or twice to make sure there was enough strawberries left to make the jam). I eventually grew to an age-- 10 years old--where I wasn’t a nuisance in the backyard and Nana Carole would ask me to help her out. This request was music to my ears and that summer enriched my appreciation for all plants, but wild strawberries in particular.
From above, wild strawberries look like a mere weed. Upon closer inspection the fruit is a rich, deep red color and small white flowers sprout from stems creeping along the ground. I think the aspect of the plant that Nana Carole loved most was that is was a perennial – meaning that it had multiple growing seasons throughout its lifetime, so they did not need to be replanted every single year. Once established, wild strawberry plants require little care. As a ten-year-old, I was eager to tend the strawberries everyday to ensure they had enough water on hot days. I even built a small fence around the strawberries to prevent herbivory with the help of my pap. Another enchanting quality of these strawberries is that wildlife, especially butterflies, are attracted to them. I spent countless hours on sunny days in that small strawberry patch, sitting as still as a statue in the hopes that any butterfly passing by would stop and visit the plant so I could take a closer look.
The summers I spent at Nana Carole’s taught me so much; not only about my new-found respect for plants, but also how it bonded me to a person I hold so close to my heart. Nana Carole passed away on Mother’s Day in 2014. In her obituary she was described as , “a lover of sunlight, cold beer, flowers, and wild strawberries”. I cannot thank my Nana Carole enough for her green thumb and the lessons she has instilled within me to care for plants, which is now reflected in my future career path.
After Nana Carole died, I noticed how prevalent wild strawberries were outside of the backyard where I had grown up. I realized that these plants are dynamic and are equipped to grow just about anywhere. Roadsides, edges of woods, forests and even gravel paths are not uncommon places to find sprouts of these nifty little plants. Although Nana Carole has passed, her spirit lives beyond just the means of memories. I’m reminded of her everyday looking into my backyard at home. Just before my dad sold her house, we lifted one strawberry plant and pulled off the crowns, enabling us to plant our very own patch of wild strawberries at home.
Carly is a sophomore at the University of Pittsburgh where she studies Biology. She is from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Photo credits: (Top) Strawberry patch by Ruth-helen [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0) on Wikimedia Commons]. Photos of Nana Carole provided by the author.