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."