The Intersection of Gardening and Genealogy

The idea for this post came after my recent migration from the “bird site not to be named'” taken over by a megalomaniac, to the much pleasanter and helpful, not for profit, social media site Mastodon. While this blog post is not about Mastodon I do want to put in a plug to fellow genealogists and gardeners to check it out. The desktop version works great but you may want to use one of the apps for Mastodon like Toot or Tusky as they seem to lead to less frustration for newbies.

Crepe Myrtle Lagerstroemia indica ‘Tuscarora’

I couldn’t help but notice in the lists of interests posted in Introductions on Mastodon [new to me social media site] , the number of genealogists who are also gardeners and that got me to thinking of all the ways that the two hobbies overlap. That’s not to say that all genealogists are gardeners or vica versa, but it seems like a very high percentage are. It is certainly true for me. My interest in gardening goes back as far as my memories stretch to fuzzy caterpillars and beautiful garden flowers. My serious involvement with genealogy began at 17. Our garden whether cultivated or that which nature provides has always been my sanctuary. And it seems that the lives of my ancestors also provide a sanctuary from the cruelties of life.

So what things might they have in common. Gardeners and Genealogists are:

  • Hopeful: the act of planting a seed or adding a new branch to the tree
  • Patient: both gardening and genealogy take patience
  • Dirty: they both reveal secrets and they both get you on your knees
  • Colorful: Gardens and Family trees are colorful
  • Tools: Gardening and Genealogy can be practiced by everyone whether tending to a potted African violet or spending hours researching an archive from afar.
  • Rules: Good gardeners and genealogists often break the rules and tolerate chaos becasue it feeds their souls
  • Stories: The best gardens are filled with stories, like the best genealogies
  • Love: What’s not better with love?


There is nothing more HOPEFUL than planting a tree that you will never see reach its maturity, knowing that its branches will harbor future creatures and provide shade to people you will never know. And no genealogist finishes a family tree —we are ever hopeful that the gardens we make and the family history we uncover will blossom in the future and somehow the failures and brick walls will eventually be overtaken.


Anyone who sticks with gardening or genealogy will either make their peace with PATIENT or give up the pursuit. Some of my brick walls have taken 40 years or more to come tumbling down—and as a gardener I cannot possibly add up all the failures and dead plants that a lifetime of gardening entails. Yes, the weeds keep coming and yet I have spent the last few weeks a couple of hours a day on my knees weeding—in a rather futile attempt to win the war in favor of the native wildflowers. Similarly I am ever patiently plodding along hoping to make a new discovery or DNA match which will unlock the origins of my third great grandparents John MERRITT and Margaret GEARY.


Gardeners and genealogists get their hands DIRTY—I mean that literally. Your hands lead you to places you never expected and your searching for the right plant or the right resources unlocks untold secrets of our connection to the natural world and to our past. We get down and dirty and on our hands and knees in archives and libraries and gardens. We learn dirty little secrets someone worked hard to bury. We just keep digging.


Even if you garden is currently covered in a blanket of snow or all shades of green, there’s no denying gardens are COLORFUL. Even if most of the color is plays of light and comes on the wings of those who visit it. Genealogy is colorful both in the characters we meet, the places they come from and for some the color coding we often use to separate this family from that one.


This goes without saying, both endeavors have their own sets of favorite TOOLS. And there is a large degree of overlap. Books, libraries and the internet being repositories of knowledge and inspiration. Metaphors abound in raking and shaking the leaves and trees. Pruning branches, cross pollinating and simply mucking about in gardens or graveyards.


Anyone reading my blog, knows I both like rules, and like breaking them. The best RULES are like paths, they are more interesting when they meander. The rules give structure and orderliness but they can also constrain and discourage. A gardener should always look forward to surprises as should the genealogist. The rules are guideposts. They are not fences nor gatekeepers and don’t let anyone tell you different!


I say it again and again, who cares about all those names, dates and places and neatly organized files? Well you do. However, what is important is the STORIES. Even in the garden, it is telling its story. Plants that fail to thrive and others that spread with reckless abandon. My grandfather had a Japanese maple from which my parents had a seedling. Many gardens later the progeny of that maple carry on in my garden today.


Arguably gardens and family history grow stronger with LOVE. Our time on earth is transient. We garden and compile family history, best watered with love and perseverance. It is both a solitary act of selfishness indulging in our love of growing things and the selflessness of helping and providing a path for others. Only fellow gardeners or genealogists will appreciate what it took to get there. We did it for love.

“Time is to slow for those who wait,
Too swift for those who fear,
Too long for those who grieve,
Too short for those who rejoice…
But for those who love,
Time is Eternity.”

― Henry Van Dyke

Kelly Wheaton ©2023 – All Rights Reserved

7 Comments on “The Intersection of Gardening and Genealogy”

  1. Thank you! This is beautiful and something that I hadn’t thought about. Yes, I’m a gardener as well as a genealogist too. My late mother’s rhubarb grows wild in my backyard, my father’s “walking onions” continue to walk around my garden and even my house plants have stories. This past Christmas I brought back cuttings from my husband’s grandmother’s Christmas cactus in Vermont so that I can start plants for our girls and their children.

  2. I absolutely love this.

    I think for those of us who live where winter clamps down on active gardening and growing things, that winter is its own metaphor.

    I would call it a time of regrouping and refocus – an inward time. For me, getting a supplemental DAR app completed and submitted for a CT ancestor on my Dad’s side. In the garden, a time of ripping out, pruning, tidying, pondering and even in winter the first snowdrops emerge. It’s a backwards-forwards time.


  3. Thank you for this beautiful article, and the sentiments that it expresses! I, too, am both a gardener and a genealogist, and love both. I would love to put a link to your blog on my Facebook page, so I can point friends to the good things you say in your blog.
    Thank you for all your efforts, and please keep up your good work!
    Jerald Erickson, Pleasant View, Utah

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