I’ve been spending lots of time in the dirt lately. I always do in springtime. But this year has been different due to COVID-19: On Mother’s Day, my mom and I couldn’t make our annual pilgrimage to the plant nursery. 

That didn’t stop me from doing my gardening thing, however. In fact, it led me to do some deep reflecting on how our ritual evolved to begin with – and why I even care. I concluded that, pandemic or not, I need to keep connecting with the land.

When I was a kid, my mom would drag me to the greenhouse on Saturday mornings. She didn’t make a beeline to the plants she wanted. She’d browse aisle after aisle, examining each specimen, touching the leafy textures, rubbing the soil between her fingers. 

I couldn’t have been more bored. Still, I did my daughterly duty and trailed along. It turns out, those early trips to the garden center helped shape my grown-up desire to nurture and protect things in nature.  

My mom knew a thing or two about soil. Equipped with a biology degree, she worked for the Soil Conservation Service, and many years later became a Colorado Master Gardener and a propagator of roses. I don’t have any memory of her actively trying to involve me in gardening, but she planted those seeds simply by exposing me to things that grow. 

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We lived in northeastern Colorado. May being asparagus season, we went wild asparagus hunting. As my mom meandered through the dusty plains east of Greeley, my brother and I perched on the hood of our blue 1973 Datsun, scanning the sides of the road for stalks of asparagus poking up through the grasses. It was a treasure hunt. We’d come home thirsty as heck, our nostrils and ears caked with dust. And with a bounty of asparagus. 

Yet, the joy of picking our own asparagus wasn’t enough to pique my interest in raising my own vegetables, or anything else.

My blasé attitude toward gardening lasted until my early 30s, when I got pregnant. My outlook changed. Maybe it was the hormones and the magic of being an expectant mother. I was overcome with an urge to put plants in the ground, watch for the bright green signs of new growth and anticipate the seasonal changes of the garden. 

Maybe my outlook evolved due to the childhood influence of my mom and her leanings toward conservation. Without calling it “conservation,” she taught me the great satisfaction of digging your hands into the soil, nurturing things to help them grow, and protecting your natural surroundings. 

Now I do this on a small scale in my north Denver garden. I put in my own landscapes, experimenting with plant varieties and discovering the many micro-climates of my yard. In autumn I cover plants with fallen leaves to protect them from the coming cold, watch perennials die back in winter and revive in spring, and refamiliarize myself with plant names each summer. All under Mom’s tutelage. My knowledge isn’t technical like hers (she knows all the Latin names). My gardening stems more from instinct and dumb luck.

On a large scale – let’s say, statewide – conservation takes on a much bigger role. It’s about preservation of a way of life here in Colorado. It’s about protection and stewardship of our land and water resources so that food grows, wildlife and people thrive, and landscapes stay beautiful. And it’s about connection to our personal roots through the land. 

These things stay true regardless of a pandemic, but the need to access food and clean water, and the urge to seek solace in our outdoor spaces, become even more pronounced.

My own sons, late teenagers, don’t care for gardening. Maybe they never will. They’ll discover their own connections with the land. So, I’ll focus on what inspires me about the garden and living in Colorado. 

And I’ll heed the words of Voltaire’s “Candide,” who said, Il faut cultiver notre jardin – “We must cultivate our garden.” If Colorado is our garden, we must cultivate it, tend it, keep it. That’s what conservation means to me.

Linda Lidov is a lifelong Coloradan, lives in Denver and works for the nonprofit Keep It Colorado.