Father’s Day 2019: Lessons Learned From A Life In The Garden

Me, my dad and my sister circa 1965

Dad was up early when I was a child. On weekdays he went to the office, but on weekends the real business began. These were the days that dad devoted to yard work. And my sister and I were a key part of his crew.

Dad ran a tight ship and an orderly landscape bore testament to our mighty team effort. In our role as garden staff, my sister and I raked, clipped, pulled weeds and hauled yard waste on a seasonal basis. We weren’t fans of the work, but we were big fans of dad’s, and the weekly chores were a good way to spend time together.

Only later did we realize that something more than gardening had been going on in the yard. While my sister and I labored in the dirt, dad had been teaching us some valuable life lessons. Following are five things I learned doing yard chores with dad that continue to infuse my life with meaning and purpose today.


Until the work was finished, there would be no rides to the pool or overnights with friends. This was a hard pill to swallow since by Saturday morning most of our pals were already playing. That being said, my sister and I gradually discovered that delaying our playtime actually increased our enjoyment of it later. By completing our yard chores first, we developed patience and strengthened our willpower. And in time, we grew to relish the psychic benefits of putting off fun until our tasks were done.


One of my jobs was to crawl around the periphery of the house with shears to prune the stray grass left behind by the mower. About halfway around the exterior, I usually got tired and started cutting corners. Seeing this, my dad never yelled, but he seemed so disappointed. As a result, I often tearfully returned to the job.

Somewhere along the way, however, I learned to do quality work. And most importantly, I discovered that practicing quality was fulfilling and that it mattered to me.


If you told dad you were going to do something, you did it. He expected no less. No excuses, prevarication or blaming poor work on your sister were valid substitutes for your word. Honesty was the rule and dad led by example, setting high standards in the yard.

Dad taught us how to be respectful of each other and listened patiently to our endless strategies for reducing our workload. He also showed us that the key to good work was to finish the jobs that we started.


Dad had a riding mower, but insisted on walking behind it to cut our 3-acre field. On the hottest of days, my mother would watch him incredulously from the kitchen window. It’s possible my dad did so to burn calories, but most probably it was a an excuse to spend more time outdoors. Whatever the reason, his work ethic made it hard to refuse when he asked us to bag the clippings.

Of course dad could have bagged the grass as he mowed, but that would have meant we missed out on the work. One year, as an incentive, he offered to pay us if we got all the clippings into 10 plastic bags. Working like mad all afternoon, we raked, piled and flattened the leaves until we had accomplished our mission. My sister was stamping on the tenth bag when it burst at the seams.

Fortunately dad paid us anyway, as exhausted, we returned to the house. In recent years, dad likes to dispute this version of the story. Nevertheless, it’s still one of my favorite garden memories today.


Dad showed us through example that even if the job got hard, or the weather uncomfortable, we should strive not to complain. Not only was it annoying, but it also made yard work unpleasant for the group. He taught that seeing things in a more positive light was better for all of us and improved our relationships.

Being young girls, my sister and I struggled the most with this concept. We tried hard to stop airing our yard work grievances, with incremental improvement over time as we aged. But, I’ll admit that it wasn’t until later on in life that I finally learned the true value of this lesson.

Thank you, dad, for all the lessons you taught us.  Happy Father’s Day. You are the best dad, ever.


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About carole funger

I'm a landscape designer and Maryland Master Gardener living in the Washington, DC area. I blog about new trends in horticulture, inspiring gardens to visit and the latest tips and ideas for how to nurture your own beautiful garden. Every garden tells a story. What's yours?

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