“Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” Marcel Proust (1871 – 1922)
My maternal grandmother’s garden was her six daughters and one son, lovingly raised. My mother not only raised nine, she knew the names of every plant in the world; or so it seemed. My daughter once predicted that she would someday be explaining her mother’s automobile crash as due to attention I paid to roadside flora at the expense of attention paid to the actual road. A habit I got from my own Mom, who, by the way, was probably just as good a driver as I am.
And for all that, I have precious few childhood memories of my Mom’s or my Grandma’s garden. I remember when they widened University Blvd at Four Corners, they had to move 3 or 4 houses at the intersection of Lorraine (sp?) where the Safeway parking lot now stands.
What I remember is that upon finding out the houses were going, Mom, naturally, wondered what was going to happen to the unsuspecting hydrangea bush in one of the doomed front yards. One long summer twilight I went with her, pulling a red wagon with a shovel in it, the 6 or 8 blocks from our house to rescue said hydrangea. Upon being approached by a security guard – there had been “vandalism” in the empty houses – Mom persuaded him to let her rescue the doomed plant.
That bush thrived in our yard from that day on, and once Mom put some chemical on its roots to make the flowers turn from pink to blue, or back. She explained pH, about which I know more to this day thanks to her, than thanks to high school labs and freshman chemistry. It’s a good thing that I didn’t know then, the meaning of the word “volunteer” as referring to spontaneous gifts of plants in the garden. Such knowledge might have transformed my childhood memory into a sort of post-traumatic nightmare of extreme rendition and severe interrogation.
Recalling this memory makes me suddenly understand why I don’t retain more than cursory memories of straggly childhood tomato plants. Mom and Grandma lived frugal lives in lean times, and they raised large families on single incomes. But somehow I got the love. It is thanks to them that I now have at least a dozen Martha Washington, trailing ivy, and the other plain pelargonium plants thriving in my yard – not one of which I bought. Once I figured out how easy it is to propagate this forgiving flower, I gently purloined cuttings of each from roadsides in my neighborhood to procreate them in my yard.
My last sight of Mom was the day I pulled away from the parking lot of the adult independent living community where she died within the month. I could see her on the balcony of their third floor apartment, built on the site where my public school kindergarten once stood. She waved goodbye with one hand, and held a watering can in the other. She was on her way to water the small herb gardens she nurtured in window boxes outside neighboring apartments.
Imagine the kind of garden my Mom would have had if she lived now. Had my Mom (or her Mother) been able to afford the time or invest the money, I like to think the gardens they would have made for me to remember would be like the ones I make now.