NOT ALL SPRINGS ARE EQUAL
There is no doubt from my life’s experience especially in the landscape garden arts that winters were colder, more brutal, and longer during my outdoor life as a child compared to the last five decades of Twin City, Minnesota existence. I was raised in a five room bungalow house in St. Paul, Minnesota. My outdoor winter life began “in earnest” around 1940 when I was six. Despite being confined to small city lots, neighbors, home owners who weren’t poverty stricken, were better, more knowledgeable gardeners then than folks are today. Nearly every household had a flower garden managed by a Mother, vegetable garden dug by a male, a father or a son, and a neat appearing manicured foundation planting to hide the foundation structure along the front of every house.
Human powered mowers made little to no noise. Only human powered tools were available then. Lawns had to look nice, neat to advertise that the citizens who lived in that house were civilized and cared about the neighborhood. Only men and boys mowed then. Many local properties included a hill to the public walk out front of the house. Mothers and sisters had other local duties. Children were everywhere. Lots were small. Divorces rarely existed. A mother was a mother, a father, a father.
Most garden tools were hand-me-downs. One mower lasted more than a lifetime for those depression years. Spending was for food….and then there was the war, 1941-45. Whether needed or wanted or not, elms were planted by the city along the ‘boulevard”, the space between the public walk and the street curb. It made things appear cozy and cool in the summer until Dutch Elm disease appeared in earnest. Maintaining a neat and attractive front yard landscape indicated home owners cared about the quality of their neighborhood. Adults weren’t as obnoxious then as so many seem to be these days. Children didn’t dare misbehave where I lived. They, we, didn’t dare.
I learned what a Lombardy Poplar tree was when I was 4…. as well as a Spruce, Elm, Bleeding Heart, Phlox, Juniper, Four-0’clocks, Spiraea, marigolds, tulips, hyacinths, daffodils, and chrysanthemums that same year. I became my Mother’s gardening agent. My sister played dolls and paper dolls in the bedroom. (Did I ever luck out. I loved the outdoors especially gardening from then on. It was a geography in which my Mother and I bonded besides doing thousand piece picture puzzles with her indoors in Winter).
There were no driveways dividing front yards in the city then. Ugly stuff was confined to the back alley.
We learned birding at school starting in first grade. There were several empty lots in our neighborhood across the alley from us before World War II. In 1942 the City plowed up these lots for Victory Garden use…..The major weed in these lots was called hemp in those day. No one seemed to care about such matters. Everyone had a church or synagogue to tend to.
Despite our economic struggles these days, there is always welfare and fewer families with children by percentage unlike those years when boys my age had two pairs of pants, people were never fat, and food never wasted but often grown somewhere in the backyard during Spring and Summer.
Knowledge about our human past was taught in schools then. Classical music was allowed to be heard twice a month during public school time when Matilda Heck appeared. I was already aware of Beethoven stuff even before third grade while at home standing like a soldier at a wall near our front door, looking at a R. Atkinson Fox picture painting of a lovely landscape garden hanging on the wall just above my head.