Andy Domek comes by his green thumbs naturally.
Domek, 35, grew up with a sprawling community garden created by his father, a longtime Sacramento science teacher. While soaking up gardening know-how, he played with his siblings in a gigantic bean teepee, with vines winding up the tent poles to shade against the Sacramento summer sun.
“The beans used to hang down in the middle where we could pick them,” Domek recalled. “It was a really big teepee – 10 feet across, enough to fit three kids – and really fun.”
Besides learning about vegetables, Domek also learned a lot about life in that garden. Those summer afternoons offered precious quality time with his dad. Now, they’re memories and lessons he wants to pass onto his own children as well as kids everywhere.
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“I’ve been gardening since before I could walk,” he said. “I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t growing things.”
With the help of a friend in the statehouse, Domek is passing on that wisdom in a children’s book, “Our Garden” (Travelers Series Publishing, $9.95, 24 pages). It’s now available via Amazon.com as well as at such local bookstores as Time Tested Books and Beers Books.
Domek and illustrator Stephen Green will be among the featured authors and artists at the 15th annual ScholarShare Children’s Book Festival at Fairytale Town in Land Park. They’ll read “Our Garden” and sign copies during the festival, set for Sept. 26 and 27.
Headlining the book festival is Laura Numeroff, author of the children’s classic “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.”
A communications manager at the Assembly’s Speaker’s Office of Member Services, Domek has worked at the Capitol for eight years, while Green, an Emmy-winning animator and longtime graphic artist, is a creative director at the statehouse and another avid gardening dad.
In “Our Garden,” a child and father create a vegetable garden with the help of the family dog, Snuffles. During their adventure, the young protagonist learns that crows aren’t scared of scarecrows, stinky shoes may deter raccoons, and purple tomatoes taste as sweet as candy.
Underlying every line is love, not only for gardening but his family.
“I don’t think I had a store-bought pickle until I was in college,” he said. “Garden, cook, eat, love; that’s the model I grew up with.”
Domek can’t walk in his own vegetable garden without thinking of his father.
“This book really is a love letter to my dad and my family,” he said. “Gardening really is an act of love for my family. It’s not only about providing food, but the whole experience of doing something together, nurturing a plant and watching it grow. Gardening is the most wonderful thing; I just love it.”
His father’s vegetable gardening was about more than food and family. Back in the 1970s, Gene Domek taught science at St. Francis School and wanted to create something to inspire his students as well as his own children.
“He co-founded a community garden on I Street, between 25th and 26th streets,” the author recalled. “Originally intended as a one-year experiment with his junior high science students, the garden ended up lasting nearly a quarter of a century. My siblings and I grew up in that garden. I have so many fond memories of it.”
That garden is now a memory, too, replaced by development on I Street. Gene Domek went on to teach at Christian Brothers and Roseville high schools before retiring in 2014. Last year, he was diagnosed with cancer. While in the hospital, he developed complications.
“My dad has been hospitalized since last August as he attempts to recover from septic shock,” Andy Domek said. “It’s been awful. On a ventilator, he can’t speak, but as of late, he is able to write. And much of what we communicate about has to do with gardening.”
With his dad’s illness, he decided he had to stop thinking about writing a book and get it done.
“(The book’s) creation came from my time spent in that garden with my sweet father, as well as the time I spend gardening with my own children,” he added. “And I got to give him the book. We both had a few tears, but they were good tears.”
This summer, the writer worked in his garden with his children, Claire, age 5, and William, 2. The kids picked cherry tomatoes and gobbled them like jelly beans. They enjoyed their first fresh raspberries, straight off the canes.
Domek and his wife, Anna, created a bean teepee too, although it’s not quite as big as the 10-foot structure from his childhood, but the kids don’t mind. There’s still shady space inside.
“We planted a pumpkin patch, too,” he said. “I love working with the kids. The most important thing – we did it together. I called the book, ‘Our Garden,’ because that’s how we refer to our own garden. We want the kids to have ownership of it, too, and to feel like it’s all of ours.”
And they do.
“I love it when people come over and Claire wants to show them our garden,” he added. “She takes so much pride in it. She’s a gardener, too.”
Just look at her thumbs.
ScholarShare Children’s Book Festival
Where: Fairytale Town, 3901 Land Park Drive,Sacramento
When: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sept. 26 and 27
Note: Author Andy Domek and illustrator Stephen Green will present “Our Garden” at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 26, and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 27.