29 April 2008

Playing Round the Garden Trees

My mother has lived in her house since 1972. I remember when we moved in: I had just finished sixth grade, the grass hadn’t been cut in years and there was a row of hemlocks along the sidewalk that completely blocked the house from the street. But there was architecture to the yard - low walls of river stone bounding untended flower beds, lovely pink dogwoods that bowed down to the ground, a cement fountain near a decrepit fish pond.

Over the years, my mother has tended every square inch of the property. There are curving pathways edged with hosta, flowering shrubs, perennials galore. A grape arbor abuts the garage, a row of raspberries borders the vegetable garden, there are blueberry and currant bushes. She’s composted forever: kitchen scraps go to one pile, and fallen leaves to the “rhino pit”. The hemlocks are long gone and the street side of the house is visible, but from the side porch, you can see no other houses.

When W. and I bought our house three and a half years ago, we started to address our own garden. We took out a wild rose that had smothered two big azaleas. We moved shrubs that were too close together, and others that were just in the wrong places. I’ve ripped out countless wild daylilies while reclaiming a hillside flower bed. And nearly every time I’ve gone to visit my mother in the spring or summer or early fall, I’ve returned home with a plant or two, or a carload.

This past weekend, I spent some time at her house. Much of the time I was tending to her, and monitoring my daughter, but for an hour on Friday, while the hospice aide was watching my sleeping mother, I puttered around out in her yard. I dug up a bit of this, a little of that, and took it all home to plant on Sunday.

I have a tiny piece of a fancy blue hosta, a couple of volunteer boxwoods, and some sweet woodruff. There are coral bells and creeping sedum and candytuft and bleeding hearts that originated at my grandmother’s house. I found a little doublefile viburnum, maybe three feet tall, under my mother’s huge one. A divine and feisty woman from across the street had once passed on some of her peonies and irises; I took a little of each. I dug up a mess of variegated solomon’s seal – a plant that someone else had given her. Along her front walk, out of place and threatening a yew, was a volunteer evergreen that I can’t identify – but I potted it up anyway.

It so pleases me that I have these pass-along plants. It connects me and my land back to my mother and hers, and to my grandparents too. It connects me to my mother’s friends and neighbors, and to all the other people to whom she’s given bits of plants. And when I walk around my house and through my yard at the end of the day, it feels like home.

24 comments:

Jessica said...

This is so beautiful it made me cry.

Aunt Becky said...

What a beautiful way of looking at things, Magpie.

Thank you for this.

slouching mom said...

I'm so glad you did that. And now you have all those lovely and meaningful flowers and shrubs. Wonderful!

Next, will you come to my house and fix up the yard? It's a disaster, and I know nothing about gardening. Much obliged. ;)

kathy a. said...

such a beautiful post.

Sober Briquette said...

That's really wonderful. I'm glad you had the chance to do it.

I hope to find a little patience - there is little worth saving of the "landscaping" here, and I'm so disappointed - I don't want to start from scratch, although some would make the most of the opportunity.

womaninawindow said...

What a wonderful way to honor your mom. These things that outgrow us have a life of their own, and we think we tend them...

Her Grace said...

I love this. What a wonderful way to keep a piece of your childhood home with you always.

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

I like to know the stories behind plants, too. My sister-in-law gave me a cutting from a raspberry which had grown in her friend's yard for ages; it's at our old house, and as soon as it warms for real I'll take a cutting and bring it to our new house.

The New Yorker printed a story once about how young Italian brides used to take cuttings from their mother's fruit trees and bring them to the new place -- to the mother-in-law's place, essentially. I love that idea. Subversive : )

nonlineargirl said...

I can relate - some of my favorite plants are gifts from my mother-in-law's garden.

Eva said...

As you know we've done a lot recently with our yard, lots with my mother's help. Her own yard is a veritable English country garden. It's really amazing. People drive by just to see it. And many of my plants are from my mom's and grandmother's yards. Almost every time I go visit or she comes here I end up with a carload of new things to put in the ground--irises, rudbakia (uh, I can't spell that) a yew, groundcover, etc. I like to have this connection, too, with my family's gardens, where everyone has always spent so much time.

susan said...

This is lovely, Magpie: I, too, treasure the plants that have come from friends' gardens into mine. I'm now pondering how many I can manage to transplant halfway across the country when we move this summer. Some of them will just have to stay here, I think, but I like the notion of knowing what I'm leaving is a bit of my story in the soil. This is a beautiful way to keep your connection to your mother.

Rima said...

This was just lovely.

MadMad said...

That is such a great idea - and it will give you memories for years to come. Wonderful!

MamaGeek said...

Ah, something tangible. This was beautiful Magpie. I have Iris bulbs from my grandma that I cherish as well, so I loved this.

flutter said...

beautiful

the queen said...

I'm so soothed by this. 1) Because I was worried that Mom's garden is going to look like a mine field after the next nice spring weekend, and 2)and this is the really selfish one, because I'm done with the hard road you're having to follow right now. Be brave when you need to be.

painted maypole said...

i wishe i had a green thumb. and a mother who lived closer. her garden is always lovely.

wheelsonthebus said...

What a lovely post and a perfect tribute to your mother.

I AM VERY MARY said...

How very lovely. Thank you.

Kelley said...

My parents have a rose in their garden that was from the bush that my grandmothers wedding bouquet came from.

I have a black thumb. I hope that I am never left in charge of that rose. Unlike you, I think you must be a goddess in the garden :)

soher529 said...

Oh ......
That is so special. It makes me feel good to know that you have it all.

She She said...

I love this post.

I have a plant in my yard now that's a piece of a plant my mother took from her mother's garden in Vermont, moved to New York, then to Missouri, then back to New York. It's come full circle now to be in my garden back in Vermont.

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

What a great way of perpetuating your mother's legacy. I hope your daughter is paying attention.

Julia said...

This is lovely, and heavy with anticipation. I am sorry...