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Posts Tagged ‘gardens’

There are many type of gardens, most improve with age.  And sometimes age says more about the gardener than the garden.

For as long as I recall, my mother kept a fair-sized garden at the house where I grew up.  Only the second place she ever lived, her garden welcomed many varieties and the occasional native plant, long before native plants were popular in residential gardens.

It was not until my mother was into her 70’s that I learned she did not come to gardening on her own.  It was the chain-smoking, bottle-blonde older neighbor with an affinity for Yorkie dogs that introduced her to the hobby. The neighborhood was new then, mostly rancher homes with no landscaping save  for the barren hardscape of a construction zone.

Mother of two when she moved in, eventually two more children came along, and the garden began to take shape.  Phlox, lilies, ornamental shrubbery, scrub oak, columbine, and a host of perennials came and stayed for the duration. A few larger trees arrived over the years, an Austrian pine, Linden, Quaking aspen, Hawthorne, and Mountain Ash, several of which remain today.

My mother was reliably found in the garden, enriching the soil year after year with a cup or two of peat moss in each planting hole, dipped out of a colorfully painted tin cup that was old even when I was young.

The gardening styles of my mother and I are wholly different.  While my mother established and tended the mainstays of her garden for decades, I cultivate changeability, welcoming volunteers, being romanced by new introductions, stalking my garden with a trowel in one hand and unexpected entrant in the other, looking for the right spot–or sometimes any spot. Her garden was steady, mine forever shape-shifting.

My mother retired some time ago, her garden figuring prominently in each day after that.  She volunteered for years at the local botanical garden, and there is a bench there that bears her name. When I visited home, we walked and talked in the garden, discussing plants and their habits.  As any gardener knows, one of the secrets of a garden is its timelessness.  There is no before, or after, there is simply the face of the garden as it is now.

I visited again last August.  In her 90th year, my mother does not have a great deal of short term memory.  There had been talk of a move to assisted-living, as aging in place with assistance simply wasn’t enough anymore.

After I arrived, we chatted inside the house. I had the discomfiting feeling that my mother could not altogether place me. While I was used to reintroducing topics or people, this was something different.

As we spoke, I glanced out the picture window that takes in a terraced garden in the back of the house.  The garden, long home to a community of robust plantings, was three-quarters covered by an invasive grass, beautiful in the breeze, but entirely hiding the differentiated species that may yet be struggling there. Startled, I asked her about the grass.  She looked out unperturbed, saying only that it grew well there.

Though lovely, the grass is homogeneous, smothering wherever it grows, it has nothing to say and little to show.  A metaphor of the mind, the grass had overtaken the decades of detail of the life that tended it. The gardener is no longer in residence.

A few weeks later, my mother moved into a beautiful assisted living facility.  There are kind people, good meals, and interesting activities.  She adjusted well, with help, over time.  There is a sunny courtyard in which to walk and the garden that I thought she would miss does not come up in our telephone conversations.

COVID-19 is stalking the residents of assisted living and nursing facilities throughout this country.  Family visits curtailed, packages quarantined, employees tested for symptoms on each arrival. But like seeds of invasive grasses, the progenitors of COVID-19 are rarely seen, showing only after the virus has taken hold in a fragile human ecosystem. Like everyone around the world, we can only wait.

On my next visit, I will bring starts of some of the plants in her garden with me, and her garden will live on, far from its original setting. That is the way with gardens, even when the gardener goes home.

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