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The joy of putting down roots
Shirley Says
Robbie Sharpe watches his garden grow. - photo by Photo by Richard Bates

'Why try to explain miracles to your kids when you can just have them plant a garden.'

-- Robert Brault


There’s something comforting about looking through garden catalogues, with the glossy pictures of people working in their gardens. The green plants, colorful blooms, and a flurry of butterflies stir one’s frontier nature.
Since the days of the Victory Garden during the World Wars, gardeners were empowered by growing their own produce. A sunny spot is the only thing needed for a bountiful garden. Southern gardeners are blessed with real advantages…rich soil, longer growing season, adequate rain, and plenty of sunshine.
Gardening has different meanings for everyone. Some view gardening as a hobby…a way to feed the family, or to simply escape the pressures of a rigid work schedule. Supermarket vegetables can’t compare in quality, freshness, and taste to those grown in one’s backyard.
Growing fruit and vegetables is an endless source of pleasure, pride and accomplishment. Although gardening is tedious, it doesn’t feel like work… it’s a labor of love.
Oft I’ve heard it said, “Digging in the dirt is good for one’s soul.” I discovered this to be true at a very young age. Planning, planting, and growing vegetables always captivated me. Is it possible one can be genetically predisposed to raise crops, as did their ancestors?
Perhaps it was because I had the privilege of being raised around gardens. Living in Blueberry, my parents always had one. So many beans, squash, and cucumbers coming from tiny seeds were a miracle to me. Daddy would plow the rows and Mama would drop the seeds.
My grandmother Floy Davis lived in Blueberry and always had a garden. She planted her last at the age of 92 but was unable to harvest. My cousin, W.H., gathered it. I can still hear her say, “If you know how to work anything, it will make. I believe in planting by the signs…never by the moon.”
When Henry Ford came to Richmond Hill, he had homes built in Blueberry and the Bottom. (So named because it was a swamp before Mr. Ford had it cleared and drained.) All the houses had a building in the rear for an automobile, a laundry room and a place to store firewood. Chicken coops were built behind most of the houses as well.
Mr. Ford made sure each house had a backyard area for a small garden. Today, it’s not unusual to drive through these communities and see beautiful vegetable gardens, as it was over 50 years ago.
Henry Butler, a grandson of Henry (Pa) and Floy Davis (Ma), is naturally inclined to plant a garden. Not only does he grow vegetables, he helps his mother Allene Butler preserve them. Henry shares his thoughts, “Pa fed ten children as a sharecropper. It just comes naturally to me.”
Allene Davis Butler recalls their family garden while growing up.  “Ma used to go to the cornfield, gather and shuck corn, and put it in the oven of the old wood stove. After school we would sit on the front porch and eat the ‘roasting ears’. Ma would have biscuits in the warmer…we’d punch a hole in the top and pour in cane syrup. We never went hungry!”
Jacob Grant and I recently had an interesting conversation about gardening. A resident of Richmond Hill for almost 50 years, Jacob is a generous and avid gardener. He also plants by the signs…“I stick close to the Almanac.” He believes in order to have a successful garden the climate has to be right. He explains, “You must have warm days and nights when you plant, no zigzagging.”
Every year Jacob plants a vegetable garden and gives the vegetables away. He lowered his voice and spoke seriously, “I farm for the house, not the market. I give my vegetables to the Senior Citizens Center and the church. The ones I like to share with most are the elderly. They are the ones who used to plant gardens but are not still able. I take care of them first.” Jacob looked at me intently and added, “ Older people still love gardening but can’t do it for themselves…that’s where I come in...”
Robbie Sharpe lives in the same house in the Bottom that has been in his family over 50 years. He has a garden behind his house in the same spot his mother and father had theirs. Robbie’s parents were Robert, Sr. (Bud) and Pauline Sharpe. Bud worked for Henry Ford building the mansion, in the power plant and the ice plant. Bud and Doy Gill worked in the ice plant and Jake Davis was the ‘route man’, delivering blocks of ice for the locals’ iceboxes. The ice plant closed when the people began buying electric refrigerators.
Somehow I wasn’t surprised to hear Robbie say, “I plant by the signs…I always go by the Almanac. My Mama always planted by the signs.” What is the unquenchable need to plant a garden? Is the desire to do so inherited? When asked, Robbie flashed his familiar smile and said, “I don’t know what it is…every year I say I’m not going to do it again. When Spring comes, I’m out there plowing again!”
With finality Robbie answered, “I just love to see something grow!”  

Hiers was born and raised in Richmond Hill. You can contact her at

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