Each month we like to offer the opportunity to our Backyard Gardener participants to share a story of  their own, past or present, related to gardening. This month we heard from Sarah, one of our second year backyard gardeners, as she reflects on an old family heirloom. 

Some of my most vivid memories with my grandparents while I was growing up were in their garden. I can remember spending hours outside with them, playing in the garden dirt while my grandpa tended to his plants, and sitting on their porch swing helping my grandma prepare green beans to be canned – to be used at our family celebrations of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. I’ve always believed that my grandparents both have some of the greenest thumbs I’ve ever seen. My grandpa can make any little seed germinate, and my grandma can make any flower bloom.  It’s memories like these that I blame for my own gardening obsession.

My grandparents are both in their mid 80s now, and my grandpa has about 70 years of gardening experience now. My grandpa grew up in Hannibal, Ohio. He has four brothers. His father passed away when he was very young and his mother passed when he was about 12. He and his brothers went to live with their grandfather. His grandfather hired a woman to live with them and tend to the house. My grandpa says that this woman, called Aunt Deli, was a big reason that he got into gardening. She had the boys in the garden, working and tending to the plants, and then she would can all of their harvest. Aunt Deli believed in the moon cycles when it came to gardening. My grandpa fondly recalls a memory of him accidentally planting potatoes a day too early, and Aunt Deli made him go outside to dig them up just to be replanted the next day to line up with the moon cycle. He recalls having a prolific garden, having a grape arbor and an apple tree that provided for the entire family. 

My grandpa continued to keep a garden up until the last few years. He grew an abundance of potatoes, tomatoes, green beans, beets, cucumbers, strawberries, and probably did trial runs of dozens of other plants. While he is unable to keep a big garden like he used to, he still plants tomatoes and one very special seed.

Last year, my grandpa walked up to me and showed me a bean. It was long, white and had black dots on it. Now that I was becoming quite the avid gardener, he was eager to share the bean and its story with me.

The year was 1960. My grandpa’s cousin was seeking treatment for Polio in Columbus, Ohio. During one of their trips to Columbus, they decided to visit the Ohio State Fair. When my grandpa’s Aunt Marie was walking through the horticulture building at the fair, she found a bean on the floor. It was long and white and had black dots. Other fairgoers were walking on it and paying it no attention. Aunt Marie picked up the bean and took it to the counter to offer it make to the salesman, but he told her to keep it. She put the bean in her purse and took it home. After letting the bean dry out, she collected the seeds and planted them the next season. Since that day in 1960, the seeds from that one disregarded bean at the Ohio State Fair have been planted by someone in our family every growing season. The bean has continued to be prolific over the 60 years since that state fair. 

The type of bean has been subject to family debate for years now. According to my grandparent’s research, all signs point to them being a rattle snake bean. However, the true name of this bean has been subject to family debate for years. Some family members argue that it is a old fashioned white pole bean. The true name of the bean remains a mystery, and thus has been named Aunt Marie’s Fair Beans. This year I will plant Aunt Marie’s Fair Beans for the very first time. I can only hope that I am able to carry on the legacy of these very special seeds.