You Can't Move a Garden

Moving is tough. And it’s even tougher when you’re a gardener.

And, yet, we do it all the time. Life takes us places, away from our plants and decades-long labors of love.

In 2012, we moved from Seattle to Minneapolis. Excited about our new opportunities, we turned on a dime, leaving just three weeks after making the decision to move. We left behind a yard filled with beautiful (and pricey) ornamentals, burgeoning veggies, berries galore and the best orchard we’d ever had.

You just can’t move plants easily, not even little ones, and not 1,700 miles. We migrated by plane and had our vehicles shipped, so filling up the backseat of a car wasn’t even an option.

I carried on a single live plant, a baby sempervivum, a descendant from my very first garden planted about 10 years earlier. It was a hens-and-chicks line that had endured three previous moves.

I also brought saved seeds from another favorite—Scarlet runner beans (above). They had become my signature plant.

In Seattle (above), they climbed bamboo trellises to create tunnels for shade and play. They provided food for the family and attracted hummingbirds and bees galore with their red flowers.

Once settled in the gorgeousness of Minneapolis, we eagerly awaited our first spring. All the snow melted in March.

Then in April we got 17 inches more in three separate storms. It continued into May with two more snowstorms!

In mid-May — exasperated that the leaves still hadn’t emerged from the trees — I hastily pushed about 50 runner bean seeds into the wood chips below a bare-branched, 50-foot-long dogwood hedge. I knew the chips were a poor medium. I knew the seeds, if they germinated, would never get enough sun in our somewhat shady yard, especially once the hedge leafed out.

But I just had to do something. I had to sow, even if reaping seemed like it would never come.

As the weeks went on, I noticed the bean seedlings were pretty much shaded out. And I didn’t have the energy to water them, so their planting turned out to be a symbolic gesture, as I’d expected. Deer, meanwhile, ate the other runner bean seeds I’d sown in the sunnier veggie beds. Alas, it wasn't to be!

But then, just last week, I noticed, high in the top of that massive leafy dogwood hedge, soaring 15 feet tall, there they were—my little red flowers!

Yes, one of my Jack and the Beanstalk beans had made it, and—having climbed, finally, into a bit of late-day sun—it was producing pods! I might yet again harvest the seeds and keep our tradition going.


I imagine this is how American pioneers must’ve felt when they brought along their roses, seeds and other heirlooms, keeping a little bit of their past in tow, preserving their old ways of life, their fragile heritage, maybe even their memories of loved ones lost.

In those days, it was sometimes a miracle to even survive such travels much less see another season of fruit or flowers in a new home a mere year later.

Of course, for me, traveling was easy. But seeing my runner beans, my personal heirlooms, alive and growing, was really special and really good for my recently relocated soul.

If you had to move, what plant would you take with you?