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LifestyleColumnistsJessica Damiano

Readers honor their gardening dads for good food, memories

Mitchell Ribera of Oceanside turned an overgrown backyard

Mitchell Ribera of Oceanside turned an overgrown backyard into a vibrant graden. Here, he holds a laundry basket of the grapes he has grown. Photo Credit: Lauren Ribera

What better way to honor all the gardening dads out there than with a nod to their efforts and the positive impact they’ve had on their families? From hauling and digging to planting and pruning, these dads not only work hard, they’ve made lasting memories for their loved ones.

My own father, Anthony Pace, grew roses (and romantically clipped bouquets for my mom every weekend during the growing season). He grew figs and planted grapevines in our Queens backyard, too, and tended never-ending crops of juicy tomatoes, hot peppers, eggplants, zucchini, herbs and — my favorite — cucuzza squash that grew taller than me. He also instilled in me an interest, which grew into a love, in watching things grow. These readers’ families have similar stories to tell:

Mitchell Ribera, 34, Oceanside

“My husband loves our garden!” says Lauren Ribera. “When we moved into our home a little over four years ago, the backyard was a mess. Overgrown shrubs, dead trees and ivy as far as the eye could see. Mitchell, however, saw past all that. As he cleared the yard, he uncovered old car batteries, a propane tank, lawn cushions and even a surfboard! More importantly, as the yard seemed to grow bigger, so did his passion for gardening. You name it, he grows it — typical home garden fare like beans, tomatoes, lettuce, kale, carrots, broccoli, peppers, squash, zucchini, potatoes, asparagus and pumpkins, as well as veggies I had never heard of like nasturtium and Jerusalem artichokes. The fruit plants include strawberries, grapes, blueberries, currants, Goji berries and watermelon. Fruit trees are abundant, too — Mitchell grows cherry, plum, peach, apple and fig.

“It’s not always easy for Mitchell to find time to garden with our busy family, which includes 4 1/2-year-old twins, Natalie and Julia, and James, 2, plus baby No. 4 arriving this fall. The easiest way to find time is to include the children in the garden, and oh how they love it! They eat things I never would have touched as a kid, and the credit goes to Mitchell.

“He has expanded far more than their palates in the garden: Our children delight in watching the plants blossom and grow. They have learned about root systems and the responsibility of caring for living things. They think nothing of picking a snack while they are outside playing or picking vegetables for dinner. As a family, we have made our own tomato sauce, pickles and grape juice.

“What began as my husband’s interest in gardening has become a fun-filled activity in which the whole family can participate!”

William J. Wolkoff Sr., 93, Brightwaters

“My dad, William J. Wolkoff, is a World War II veteran, a member of the Long Island Dahlia Society, Mid-Island Dahlia Society, the Horticultural Society and a master gardener,” writes Phyllis Wolkoff.

In fact, Wolkoff is such a presence on the Long Island dahlia scene that the Dahlia Garden at Bayard Cutting Arboretum is named after him. He is also active with the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County in Riverhead, and he received an award in September from the American Dahlia Society.

Philip Grombliniak, 58, Levittown

“My dad’s tomatoes are a tradition in our family,” says Dara Marciano. “Our family gathers each Sunday for Sunday sauce made with his delicious tomatoes. We eat and laugh for hours. This summer is especially special because my daughter was born last month. My dad, a custodian, is now a grandfather, and the tradition of dad’s Sunday sauce using his homegrown tomatoes is being passed to the next generation. We also enjoy his zucchini, cucumbers and basil.”

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