DescriptionI've been thinking about my mother, as Mother's Day has just passed. And I've been thinking about the Smithsonian Gardens' new project Community of Gardens. And now the two are intersecting, as things often do in unexpected ways. My mother loved working in her yard. She was an adventurous gardener and did not stick to a formal plan. I'm like that too. My mom inherited her love of horticulture from her father and she loved the plants that grew at her childhood home in western Pennsylvania. I remember that she was determined to have a blue spruce in our yard. Fortunately it was a large yard, with room for plant adventures. She directed my grandfather to bring one with him when he came to visit. I guess he brought it in the trunk, as he always drove sedans. So they planted blue spruce in our Richmond, Virginia yard, and surprisingly, it did pretty well in spite of the hot, dry summers. My dad decorated the blue spruce with strings of large, multicolored Christmas lights. As the tree grew, my dad rigged up a hook on a pole so he could move the strings higher and higher. It was very festive looking. This was long before tacky light displays became ubiquitous. My mom let her plant prejudices be known: she did not like railroad lilies and Rose of Sharon. You might be wondering what a railroad lily is. These are the bright orange daylilies that in her experience grew all along railroad tracks and were not fit for a decent yard. As an adult, long after my mother was deceased, I decided I did like railroad lilies and planted them in several spots around my yard. Now I don't have any because we moved to house with deer (at no extra cost!) and I decided not to bother, although I could have brought carloads from the old house.
She liked japonica and lucidum. Do you know what these are? Japonica is Chaenomeles japonica. I was delighted to learn about this plant in a horticulture class I took several years ago. I had forgotten it was in our yard and that she called it japonica until I saw its name with a photo. I like japonica too. Lucidum is a dark, shiny, fast growing evergreen shrub that I called money plant as a child because the leaves made good play money. Can you guess that this is Ligustrum lucidum? I wonder if her dad used only the species name, and that is what she grew up calling these plants. My mom always grew sweet peas, another cooler weather plant that I have never been able to grow. Maybe I will try again in my new yard. I have more room now to be adventurous. My mother's yard had trees for climbing (maple), nuts to throw at my brothers (hickory), and plenty of pine tags for raking. I was shocked to learn some years ago that people pay money for what we called pine tags and more refined folks call pine needles or straw. My mother was the gardener and my father was the caretaker, orchestrating the raking and mowing, pulling trees down with his car - in the early days in this house there were too many pine trees. These were the tall skinny loblolly pines, Pinus taeda. Our neighborhood was called Whispering Pines and it's true they do whisper. It's a lovely sound.
My mother loved azaleas and dogwoods, like a good southern gardener. She was good at growing rose campion and Chinese lantern, two plants I have not tried. A friend recently told me that my mother would be so proud to see what a good gardener I've become. I'm pleased to share that my oldest son seems to be very happy working in his yard and we often talk about plants. He comes to me for advice and that makes me proud. My mother would enjoy this tremendously.
Not long ago I found a collection of slides with many flower photos and scenes of my parent's large vegetable garden that they created long after I was out on my own. It delighted me to see them both in their younger days, planting strawberries and weeding and having fun together.
I carry memories of my mother's garden in my heart and it will be with me wherever I go. This love inspires me to create spaces in my yard that will enchant my grandchildren, or just be a cozy place to sit in the shade and let the pines whisper. My mother and father would approve of this goal, as long as the pine tags don't pile up too high. I promise to work on that at least once a year. Maybe the grandkids will help.