In 1854, an Austrian monk named Gregor Mendel began an experiment in a garden of peas. He cross-pollinated different types of peas with varying height, texture, seed color, and so on, only to discover that certain traits could be passed on to future generations and others skipped. Thus was born the modern study of genetics.
Many years later and in a wholly unrelated part of the world, my younger self discovered a small gourd seedling all by its lonesome at the Red Butte Garden plant sale and persuaded my parents to purchase it for the garden. Over the summer, and with much care, it sent out its vines and tenaciously climbed its trellis, puffing out golden flowers to draw hungry bees.
By autumn, tiny swellings in the vine had grown into bizarre-looking warty gourds, about the size of a baseball. These became excellent autumnal decorations for the house.
These gourds were neat and all, but I didn’t discover their true potential until I discovered two things: Mendel’s genetic experiments, and just how many types of gourds there were in the world. There were green gourds and yellow gourds, round gourds, smooth gourds, warty gourds, gourds that dried and gourds that rotted. I had the round, yellow, warty, dry-able gourd, and I wanted to see what could be done with it.
I had my sights set on the Utah State Fair, so I thought I’d try making the biggest warty gourd the world had ever seen, by crossing my home stock with a Big Max pumpkin. The anticipation for the autumn harvest was intense. I went out every day to monitor the growth of the tiny gourds, and sure enough, this stock was larger and more orange than the last. They weren’t quite pumpkin size at the time of harvest, but one gourdkin had grown far beyond the size of a baseball to the size of a grapefruit. A shiny blue ribbon awaited at the Utah State Fair.
The point is, gardens are more than just a summer decoration or food source. They are also classrooms where students of the world can safely ask questions, make experiments, and find out whether their predictions were accurate. Caring for a garden teaches responsibility, ecological awareness, and even nutrition. Plus, an afternoon of pulling weeds is great for alleviating stress. The growing season may be over in this hemisphere, but now’s the time to start making plans for the gardens of the future!