Jack and Owen
Novice 21st Century Johnny Appleseeds

There are some benefits to growing old. One of them is that life is seen from a different perspective. On the other hand, maybe, it is not so much a matter of perspective, but you can see things that you missed seeing when you were younger. I enjoyed growing up, having a family, and having my first grandchild, Ayanna.

Al and Ayanna walking in the garden Al and Ayanna working on the computer

However, Ayanna came along when was in my early 50s. Two decades have passed and during that time, I danced with death twice. Now, in my early 70s, I benefit from things that were present during most of my life but had been missed many decades before.

Enter Jack and Owen. When Jack was around 3-years of age, he would toddle next to me around our backyard, which is on a man-made lake. I landscaped the yard in the decade that we lived here. In fact, I love landscaping and have done it in every home in which I have lived. While I have no formal landscaping training, I do have an artistic ability to see and appreciate colors.

When Jack and his family visit us in Crown Point, he will ask me the name of the flowers or bushes. I would give him names like hostas, Black-eyed Susans, hibiscus, Siberian Irises, and Stella de Oro lilies. Each time he would visit during last summer, he would want to go look at the various plants and name them.

One day when Jack was with his mother at his home in Indy, she called his attention to a pretty red flower. Jack corrected her, "That is a hibiscus." I have been with him at the zoo in Indy, and he let me know that he just saw some Black-eyed Susans.

Last fall, Jack and I planted about 2-dozen Siberian Irises in his parent's side yard. Jack watched them die later into the fall and winter. I would reassure him that they would return in the spring. After several months of doubt and fear about my promise, he was delighted to see green shoots emerging this spring.

Back at Crown Point, I was thinning out hostas, giving many to the neighbors, and took a bunch for Jack to plant next to the Siberian Irises. He loves planting. However, after planting the hostas, he commented that it looks just like my backyard in Crown Point. Then he stopped and looked concerned. "But where are the Black-eyed Susans?" Therefore, this week, we planted some of them in the garden along with the hostas and Siberian Irises. In a couple of weeks, the Black-eyed Susans will be in full-bloom. Once Jack sees the Black-eyed Susans, his next question will be, "Where is the hibiscus?"

When Jack planted the Black-eyed Susans, Owen, who is 2-years younger than Jack, wanted to help. I told Owen that Jack would show him, which he did with his usual earnestness.

Jack and Owen gardening

Jack planting

Jack instructed his little brother about the pros and cons of how to plant flowers.

Owen planting

This is what Owen learned from Jack. While we worked, I told Jack and Owen about Johnny Appleseed whose real name was John Chapman. He was born just a couple of years prior to the American Revolution and died a couple decades prior to the Civil War.

Johnny Appleseed caring for a young apple tree

Johnny Appleseed caring for a young apple tree

Johnny Appleseed planted apple trees all over Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia and became a legend in his own time. He not only planted thousands of trees, but he understood the need create nurseries to speed up the process of raising apple trees and to protect the trees from livestock who would eat the emerging spouts of the apple trees seedlings. He also taught the locals how to care for the apple trees.

Interestingly, the apple trees that Johnny Appleseed planted were not the type of apples that we enjoy today. Authorities debate why he did not plant sweet tasting apples. One group feels that it was due to his Swedenborg religious background. He did not believe that God wanted people to change God's creation. Therefore, grafting other types of apples was not correct biblically. The other group contended that the apples were used for hard cider or applejack, which is a more developed form of hard cider. It seems to me that both theories were correct.

The tin hat of Johnny Appleseed often wore was related to his frugal lifestyle. The theory regarding the tin hat was that it was a cooking pot in which he carried a Bible and some Swedenborgian theological writings. He was into planting apple trees. However, he was also an itinerant preacher.

Johnny Appleseed's tin hat

Johnny Appleseed's tin hat

Johnny Appleseed Jack digging
Johnny Appleseed Jack, the planter

When this article is up on my website and I show it to Jack, his first question will be, "Where is my hat like Johnny Appleseed had?" All of the plants that Jack planted last year and this spring have been from thinning out existing plants. For example, the hostas that he planted came from a home in which I lived 25-years ago. Actually, the Black-eyed Susans, Siberian Irises, and the hostas will multiple so quickly that in several short years that they will need to be thinned out.

It will be interesting to see over time how Jack and Owen continue their interest in planting and helping their parents in their yard. Then when they become adults, they can pass on their love for planting to their children and grandchildren.