An ode to nature-loving grandparents

Playing cards with grandma by the campfire. (Photo courtesy Falkenburger family)

Playing cards with grandma by the campfire. (Photo courtesy Falkenburger family)

September 9, 2017 | by Kirsten Betteridge

Dirty hands, scraped knees, messy hair, dressing up in old dresses, daily snacks, park visits, tree climbing and endless hugs. Looking back at my childhood, this is often what my days at my grandparents’ house in Toronto looked like. I was one of the lucky kids that got to spend weekdays with their grandma and grandpa until school began, while my parents were at work. I often spent many weekends there too, continuing the adventures of card playing, gardening and nightly bonfires.

William Johnston, known to me as grandpa, is a man of few words. He grew up on a farm in southern Ontario and spent his days learning about food crops from his mother, knowledge that he still uses to this day.

Camping with grandpa (Photo courtesy Falkenburger family)

Camping with grandpa (Photo courtesy Falkenburger family)

In the fall, you can find him browsing seed catalogues, picking out the best tomato varieties for next year’s garden. In the winter, he begins his plantings in trays under bright lights, all set on different timers. In the spring, he sets up his make-shift greenhouse to help nurture his plants. By summer, everything is planted in his backyard garden, and he reaps more fruits and vegetables than he knows what to do with. If you knock on his door on the right day you’ll be greeted with your very own tomato plant or bucket of lettuce leaves, even if you’re a complete stranger.

As a child, I was allowed to help water the plants, invited to plant my very own chive plant and, as I grew older, harvest vegetables for lunch. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, these actions fostered in me a deep love for plants; a love that came to light many years later when I was in university studying plant biology, forestry and agriculture. I would even phone my grandpa after class to discuss what I had just learned.

My grandma, Christina Johnston, who can only be described as wee but mighty, is a quick-witted Scottish woman. She is incredibly caring for her family and community. Growing up, while my grandpa tended to his plants, my grandma tended to my sister and me. She took us on walks to the park, ensuring we always had our nap and snack, and kicked us out of the house to get some time outdoors, no matter the weather. I will always remember our walks, where we often picked up pine cones for some craft we would later do.

Once my grandpa’s vegetables started to overflow in the basement, you knew canning season was upon us. My grandma would work tirelessly to create some of the best jams and canned beets I have ever had. As the years have rolled on, she is able to can less and less, but she still manages to have enough jam for me to transport from Ontario to my new home in western Canada.

As I’ve studied the effects of nature on the mind and body, I’ve learned that being exposed to the great outdoors is so important to young children. That is why on this Grandparents Day, I want to express my appreciation to my grandparents. Thank you for these experiences, for taking me camping, for our long walks, for teaching me about plants and that the best-tasting vegetables come from your own backyard. Thank you for fostering my love for nature and inspiring me to grow my own food, even in the city.

Don’t forget to thank your grandparents today.

Kristen Falkenburger (Photo courtesy Kristen Falkenburger)

About the Author

Kirsten Betteridge is the national conservation engagement coordinator at the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

Read more about Kirsten Betteridge.

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