A Love of Gardening Passed Down from the Master Gardener

Alfredo RinaldoI come from a long line of gardeners. When my nonno (grandfather), Alfredo Rinaldo, emigrated from Italy by boat with his family he brought seeds from his vegetable garden. He was known for his grapes and tomatoes. He started his seeds in America in discarded containers on the fire escape of his New York tenement house. Perhaps that was the infancy of container gardening. Years later, when he moved his family to a house, he promised his wife roses and hydrangeas. Old black and white photos prove he kept his promise.

In the 1950s, my parents moved the entire family to Long Island. My mother gardened with her father while my grandmother took care of the house. Grandfather planted tomatoes from his original seeds and established grape vines for wine. He became the neighborhood plant advisor. Although his English was poor, his green thumb was obvious. The neighbors called him the Ivy Man. The property surrounding the house had the healthiest and most vibrant ivy. Its waxy, dark green leaves were trained into topiaries. Nonno and mePeople thought his green thumb caused the leaves to climb the trees. He composted long before it was the thing to do. When he had problems with his grass, he went to a nearby cemetery to talk with the caretaker. He wanted to know how the grass on the newly dug graves filled in and looked so lush in such a short time. I went along to help translate. It was too bad he didn’t have the Green Spring Gardens’ help line to call (703-642-5173).

Fast forward nearly 50 years. His favorite granddaughter (me) enrolls in the Green Spring Master Gardening (GSMG) course, a course co-sponsored by Virginia Tech and the Virginia Cooperative Extension. The class is full of people with a passion for gardening matching mine. Every class session brings an expert in for a talk. Topics include basic botany, diagnosing plant damage, pesticide use, plant propagation, growing vegetables and composting to mention a few.  I wonder what the Ivy Man, my dear nonno, would think to learn he was growing invasive English Ivy. His lush and beautiful ivy would have killed the trees if he hadn’t worked so hard to keep it under control.

When one of the presenters spoke on composting, I could hear grandfather calling me the Principessa ramoscello (the twig princess). My job was to collect small twigs to start the compost pile. I was also responsible for the kitchen refuse of coffee grounds and crushed eggs shells. I wonder how he knew about that. He would have been thrilled to learn what I learned from the GSMG course on composting.

When he was 91, he came to visit my home in Virginia. When he saw my garden, his first words were “le rose sono magnifici, ma abbicamo bisogno di tagliare” (your roses are magnificent, but we must trim). We trimmed and six weeks later the roses did look a lot better.

Gioia Caiola The knowledge I gained from the GSMG course has been invaluable. I wish I could share my new knowledge with my nonno. He would have been delighted to know the science of gardening, to know there was a help line to call with questions, and a place where other gardeners gather to learn. And he would be delighted to know that his love and knowledge of gardening is being passed on to others by me and the other Master Gardeners at Green Spring Gardens.

Author Gioia Caiola Forman is a Master Gardener Intern at Green Springs Gardens in Alexandria. There is more information about the Master Gardener program on Green Spring’s website.






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About Fairfax County Park Authority

About Fairfax County Park Authority HISTORY: On December 6, 1950, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors created the Fairfax County Park Authority. The Park Authority was authorized to make decisions concerning land acquisition, park development and operations in Fairfax County, Virginia. To date, 13 park bond referenda have been approved between 1959 and 2016. Today, the Park Authority has 427 parks on more than 23,000 acres of land. We offer 325 miles of trails, our most popular amenity. FACILITIES: The Park system is the primary public mechanism in Fairfax County for the preservation of environmentally sensitive land and resources, areas of historic significance and the provision of recreational facilities and services including: • Nine indoor RECenters with swimming pools, fitness rooms, gyms and class spaces. Cub Run features an indoor water park and on-site naturalist • Eight golf courses from par-3 to championship level, four driving ranges including the new state-of-the-art heated, covered range at Burke Lake Golf Center • Five nature and visitor centers. Also nine Off-Leash Dog Activity areas • Three lakefront parks including Lake Fairfax, Lake Accotink and Burke Lake, with campgrounds at Burke Lake and Lake Fairfax. The Water Mine Family Swimmin’ Hole at Lake Fairfax, Our Special Harbor Sprayground at Lee as well as an indoor water park at Cub Run RECenter • Clemyjontri Park, a fully accessible playground in Great Falls featuring two acres of family friendly fun and a carousel, as well as Chessie’s Big Backyard and a carousel at the Family Recreation Area at Lee District Park • An ice skating rink at Mount Vernon RECenter and the Skate Park in Wakefield Park adjacent to Audrey Moore RECenter • Kidwell Farm, a working farm of the 1930s-era at Frying Pan Farm Park in Herndon, now with historic carousel • Eight distinctive historic properties available for rent • A working grist mill at Colvin Run in Great Falls and a restored 18th century home at Sully Historic Site in Chantilly • A horticulture center at Green Spring Gardens in Annandale • Natural and cultural resources protected by the Natural Resource Management Plan and Cultural Resource Plans, plus an Invasive Management Area program that targets alien plants and utilizes volunteers in restoring native vegetation throughout our community • Picnic shelters, tennis courts, miniature golf courses, disc golf courses, off-leash dog parks, amphitheaters, a marina, kayaking/canoeing center • Provides 263 athletic fields, including 39 synthetic turf fields, and manages athletic field maintenance services at 417 school athletic fields. PARK AUTHORITY BOARD: A 12-member citizen board, appointed by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, sets policies and priorities for the Fairfax County Park Authority. Visit https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/news2/social-hub/ for Fairfax County Government's Comment Policy.

2 thoughts on “A Love of Gardening Passed Down from the Master Gardener

  1. Sheila Ellis

    Gioia, your nonno would be so proud of you!
    Thanks for this wonderful tribute, your garden has inspired me.


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