Today we’ve got an unusual GPOD submission. Janelle Molony is sharing with us the story and some photos of her great-grandparents, Louis and Martha Nasch, from St. Paul, Minnesota.
The German-American Nasch family in St. Paul, Minnesota, produced an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables and vibrant blooming flowers in their post-WWI front yard “Victory Garden.” Despite anti-German sentiments, many immigrant families aided the war efforts overseas through home gardening. Nasch family photos from the 1910s to 1920s show lush grapevines, fruit-laden trees, and waist-high shrubs, as well as the fantastically large heads of summer cabbage (likely to be canned into “Liberty Cabbage” sauerkraut). Martha Nasch believed they had every color of the rainbow growing at some point. Louis Nasch maintained his neighborhood-famous garden up into his old age.
The source of green-thumb pride offered a spiritual and emotional boost to the Nasch family during both good times and in hard. Even long after the war, the remembrance of sweet scents and rainbows of color is often on the mind of Martha Nasch, patient #20864 of the Saint Peter State Hospital for the Insane. Her adulterous husband sent her to this institution, two hours away, on a cold January morning in 1928.
In a collection of poems written from behind bars, Martha cataloged the precious jewels of her home garden: the roses, iris, and larkspur, as well as alstroemeria, phlox, daisies, dandelions, and blood-red “Crested Cockscomb” celosia. “Flowers are part of memories,” she wrote in one poem. It seemed every flower the family grew came with a memory of a person, place, or time no longer accessible to her.
Her husband, Louis, was a stickler for keeping the garden neat, and he punished children for picking the flowers. Martha showed her poetic adoration to her little boy, Ralph, whom she missed daily. He once picked yellow dandelion weeds from the lawn and asked for his mother to add them to a vase. This sweet memory is, unfortunately, surrounded with much more heartbreaking tales of missing loved ones, patient injustices, and feelings of betrayal by her husband.
Martha’s memories include and expose historically accurate treatment of women of the 1920s thought to be insane. But like many women institutionalized in this era, Martha was not mentally ill. Planted in floral metaphors and analogies, Martha shares her thoughts on the experience, and she begs her family back home to plant the one flower that was missing: the blue forget-me-not.
This image of Louis and Ralph in the garden was photographed by Martha Nasch six months prior to her forced removal to the insane asylum, where she stayed nearly seven years to treat a so-called case of nerves.
August 1928: Ralph Nasch, age six, stands in front of phlox and holds a bouquet of “Cockscomb” to show his mother during one of his bimonthly visits to the hospital. This is one of an extremely few photos that was saved from the time Martha was away from the family home. Photo: Louis Nasch Jr.
Janelle has more information about her great-grandmother on her website: JanelleMolony.com/SevenYearsInsane
Have a garden you’d like to share?
Have photos to share? We’d love to see your garden, a particular collection of plants you love, or a wonderful garden you had the chance to visit!
To submit, send 5-10 photos to [email protected] along with some information about the plants in the pictures and where you took the photos. We’d love to hear where you are located, how long you’ve been gardening, successes you are proud of, failures you learned from, hopes for the future, favorite plants, or funny stories from your garden.
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