The Waltons' Grandpa Will Geer had a special connection with his own grandfather

On long walks in the woods, Geer's grandfather taught him how to see the world.

One of the most emotional two-part episodes on The Waltons is "The Empty Nest," which finds the family in mourning after losing Grandpa Zeb in 1978.

Played by Will Geer, Grandpa Zeb borrowed a lot of the actor's real-life characteristics, including his playfulness and his love of gardening.

You might know that Geer, who had passed away in real life that same year, actually planted Zeb's garden himself. In an interview with The Shreveport Journal in 1976 (which came complete with his recipe for Chicken Rosemary), Geer confirmed that his passion for plants came from a special connection he made as a boy with his own grandfather.

"We used to go for long walks in the woods in Indiana, and he'd always address the trees by their Latin names," Geer said. "He'd say, 'Hello, Populus alba,' to a white poplar or 'Good morning, Quercus velutina,' to a black oak. He taught me how to observe nature properly."

Just like Zeb on The Waltons, at his family home, Geer kept a magnificent garden that grew out of the love that his grandfather instilled in him as a kid. And naturally, Geer's kids became just as respectful of nature as their dad and their magical, woods-wandering great-granddad.

"Listen, all life is cyclical and renewable," Geer said. "Take my theater [garden]. I'm away a great deal of the time, but my kids run it then. They've got a feel of this land without the awful sense of possession."

Geer turned his grandfather’s life lesson into an entire philosophy about how people should be experiencing the world — which is surprisingly very different from The Waltons sticking to their mountain.

"I couldn't live in this beautiful place for a minute if I thought I could not walk away and leave it," Geer said of his garden. "We're all vagabonds at heart. It's like raising perennials. They should be transplanted and tucked away in different places every four or five years. People aren't that different in one place from another. Only the environment is different."

Geer saw the beauty in everything, and his eye was refined by spending time with his grandfather, who wouldn't let his grandson miss a detail when it came to observing nature on their long walks together.

"I might be walking along, see a cow, and say, 'Look, Grandpa, there's a red cow,'" Geer said. "He'd say, 'How do you know it's a red cow until you see it up close?' When I got close, I saw that it was a red and white cow. He made me very aware of the differences in nature, and of the fact that all the differences are beautiful."

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37 months ago
Will Geer seemed such a gentle, thoughtful man. The fact that his ex-wife, Herta Ware, played guitar at his funeral, confirmed that, and some other things, for me. RIP, Grandpa Zeb.
kimmer 37 months ago
Will Geer was my grandparents rolled up as one. Values of land and earth....taught us to respect nature and the land that we inhabited. Brings back my memories of a great childhood!
MichaelFields 37 months ago
My mother LOVED this show and Little House, as she said that was how she REALLY grew up, I did for some of my life, we did not have a washer or dryer, only a fireplace to heat the home, and 7 people living in a 2 bedroom home, the size of about 800 sq feet. We just got water and electricity when I was about 3, it was a rough, tough life, but you know it taught us a lot of lessons, and I do not think I would have ever changed it if I could, you apricate things, like for birthdays or Christmas we NEVER received Christmas present's, a good meal that we rarely had was our gift, I remember my grandfather went to the local dumps and found a broken wagon and rebuilt it for me for Christmas one year, but other then that, it was a good meal. So now even 60 years later if I get a gift or not, I am fine either way, Gifts do not make the holiday, its spending time with those you love is the best gift of all
MichaelFields 37 months ago
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Michael 37 months ago
When Will Geer was blacklisted, he had to move his famiky to a small place in Topanga Canyon. He set up a theatre so blaclisted artists had a place to perform, and a small farm to support the family. So the garden either came later, was an addition. Or maybe a change of location.

Don't forget Ellen, his daughter, who was on a number of shows seen on MeTV.
LoveMETV22 37 months ago
Thank You MeTv for that wonderful article. He truly did show an appreciation for many things and it was clearly portrayed in his character on The Waltons.
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