Thursday, August 07, 2008

A Garden of Memories

Just enough time to take care of business—well, most of it--do my laundry, and repack my bag, and then I was off to California. Larry did his own grocery shopping and that allowed me to be lazy, lounging around in my pajamas while I took care of little tasks, played in my studio, and mostly worked on the computer. What I couldn’t finish I took with me to complete by phone after I arrived at my moms.

My mom is ninety-one and I hadn’t seen her since Christmas. Several weeks ago she was involved in an automobile accident when someone else ran a red light. We thought the family would all be in Branson Missouri right now for a family reunion but we had to cancel. So I was bound for Concord, California. The most important purpose of the journey was just to spend time with my mom and to plant flowers to fill in the bare spots and make the garden look pretty again.

My love of gardening comes from both my parents; I can only remember bits and pieces of living on a small farm in Greenfield, Missouri. We had cows and my mom made her own butter, even winning a contest churning butter. My parents bought me a butter churn just like the one my mom won her contest with and although I was slow cranking the handle, I did make butter for my kids. We left the cows, pigs, ducks, and chickens behind when we moved to Ponca City, Oklahoma.

Friends of my parents shared a large plot of land to garden on just outside of town. We would drive to the garden after dad got off work in the early evening to pull weeds, pick what was ripe and ready to be used or canned for the winter. I lived on fresh vegetables and fruit in the summer, with a good hamburger thrown in once in awhile. Mom made her own dill pickles in crocks she kept in the basement. I loved to pull back the dill leaves sprinkled with salt and dip into the brine to start eating pickles long before most people would consider a cucumber a real dill pickle. The shelves in the basement held everything from stewed tomatoes to spiced pickled peaches.

Our move to California left little room in the backyard to garden, but mom and dad always seemed to find room for cucumbers, onions, tomatoes, peppers, garlic, and chives. Our first home did have a large orchard filled with every kind of fruit tree you could imagine so I spent my summers crawling up into the trees and eating my fill before moving on to the next tree. Homemade apple butter and bread seemed to round out my food groups for the summer with watermelon or cantaloupe for dessert. With the warmer California weather my dad built a round three tier strawberry bed at our next home and mom made strawberry jam and jelly that rivaled her pineapple apricot jam.

The little nineteen forties cottage mom now lives in has raised beds that dad built for strawberries--and Michael claims they are his. Apple, peach, and apricot trees provide the makings for fried pies and dried apple slices and the berry vines keep the family content with cobblers. Two years a go we planted grape vines and mom and the squirrels battled over who would get to eat them last year. We also planted a lemon tree in honor of my father last year.

Richard is a friend of my sister Mary and we have hired him to do the weeding and maintenance for our mom which allows her to enjoy tending her flowers, vegetables, and time to just sit on the patio to enjoy it all. Richard really works hard for my mom because she keeps his glass filled with southern sweet tea and provides him with continuous cookies, cobblers, pies, and baked goods.

Mary and I made several trips to the garden store to purchase flowers for the garden next to the driveway. I spent nine hours in the garden alongside my brother-in-law Poncho and Richard removing an overgrown hedge that blocked the sunlight and, more importantly, my mother wanted it removed since she moved in forty years ago. All gone! Now fifty-three new plants are all in the ground and it could have been more. A white picket fence next spring to finish off the garden and it will be beautiful. We planted snapdragons, ground-cover roses, agapanthus, wave petunias, penstemon, English lavender, pentas, poppies, chrysanthemum paludosum, hibiscus, jewels of opar, red sage, purple alyssum seed, a red pelargonium, Russian sage, and variegated lantana. At the end of the day, mom and I had a simple and satisfying meal of grilled cheese sandwiches and fresh peach cobbler. “Will work for mom’s home cooking and tea.”

I have a daylily in my garden that started life as a small start from my mother’s garden. I have divided it into five pieces that I have replanted around my yard and one piece to share with a friend named Lisa who has a garden that is a little bare right now. My mom always told me that is how most country gardens started--friends sharing cuttings, so the tradition will continue.

I’ve tried bringing home pieces of the agapanthus and the African iris but my winters are too cold and the snow and freezing temperatures always win the battle. My dad laughed one year as I gathered up probably two hundred seeds from the African iris to take home as he was cutting back the parent plant that tried to take over the front yard and produced baby plants faster than he could weed them out.

Gardening has gotten me through both the hardships and joys in life. Jim brought me nasturtium seeds when he was in kindergarten, Michael made me a birdhouse garden stake, and Kelly encouraged me to plant her favorite lupines. I work in the garden and it is my quiet time to talk to God. My parents instilled in me a love for gardening and I am grateful. From my kitchen window I can look out and see the tree my small group from church gave to me as a memory tree for my father and the round wooden tree bench that Larry gave me for my birthday to put around the tree.

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