By Ben Orcutt - email@example.com
"To own a bit of ground, to scratch it with a hoe, to plant seeds, and watch the renewal of life -- this is the commonest delight of the race, the most satisfactory thing a man can do." - Charles Dudley Warner, from "My Summer in a Garden," Bartlett's Familiar Quotations
FRONT ROYAL - Irvin Welch Jr. appreciates the joy of gardening. "You cannot garden and not realize how much God's presence is in the world," he said.
Welch, 90, and his wife, Hazel, 87, moved to Front Royal in 1976 from Wilmington, Del. Welch was the manager of textile research and development for Avtex Fibers until he retired in 1982.
"When I retired, I was fortunate enough to be able to buy this extra lot and that's when I started to garden," Welch said of the 4,500-square-foot garden in the rear of his house on Ridge Road.
A decorated World War II veteran, Welch earned the Purple Heart and Bronze Star during combat action in the South Pacific. He's proud of that service.
It is with the same pride and dedication that Welch tirelessly tends to his garden, spending about four hours daily keeping the weeds at bay, planting, watering and harvesting vegetables. Welch raises onions, peas, yellow-wax beans, green beans, squash, lima beans and tomatoes.
Welch and his wife have been married for 67 years. They have three children, five grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. When it comes to the garden, they work as a team.
"I'm the father of the garden because Hazel does the inside work -- canning and freezing -- but as far as the garden goes, she doesn't come out here at all," Welch said. "My favorite drink during the day is ice tea. I'll work out in the garden maybe 15, 20 minutes, sit down, have a little tea, rest, come back again."
Walking over to one corner of his garden, Welch points to a large, green Hubbard squash plant that has grown up in his compost bed.
"This is what we call volunteer," he said, standing over the giant plant. "It came up from stuff that I had thrown in last year."
Near the "volunteer" squash plant is a strawberry pyramid that consists of three levels of strawberry plants.
"We've had about two quarts out this year," Welch said. "When I was younger, I raised a lot of strawberries here and the only way you can take care of strawberries is down on your hands and knees picking and weeding. When I saw this pyramid advertised, then I thought, 'Gee, that makes a lot of sense.' And so this is the first year I tried it."
An electric fence surrounds the garden to keep the deer out, and a much shorter mesh fence keeps the rabbits at bay. Tending the garden is his main hobby, Welch said.
"If it's clear, I'm out here," he said. "I enjoy it. I still play a little golf, but I'm a better gardener than I am a golfer."
A city boy, Welch said he was a novice when he began his garden.
"But fortunately, my wife was from a farm on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, so I learned a lot from her father," Welch said. "I'm a record keeper. I keep a journal and I still have the notes from the first garden in 1982 and every year thereafter."
Gardening has helped keep him fit, especially after suffering a heart attack in 1991, Welch said.
"After my heart attack, my wife made sure that I ate healthy and of course the doctor made sure of medication and I made sure of exercise," Welch added.
It's not unusual for Welch and his wife to have three or four items on their plates at dinnertime that came from the garden, he said, adding that that makes him feel good.
"You know, number one, you know where it came from and you know what's in it," he said. "There's not a lot of preservatives. I don't use any sprays in the garden. If you can it or freeze it yourself, you know what's in with the vegetable."
If Welch should die tending his garden, that's just fine with him.
"As I told my wife," Welch said, "if she looks out the window some day and I'm laying in the row, she'll know I died happy."