Gardening memories are always accompanied by the thought of the Spring I spent with a friend named Lynne in Miss Lillian's garden.
I was raised by a gardener, my Mam-maw (aka; my "other Mother") had the most beautiful yard in our little neck of the woods. All kinds of roses, borders of hedges, hibiscus, crepe myrtle in various colors..it was lovely, and I hated it. I hated it because I was the child who was made to work in it. Weeding, mowing, edging, spreading the rich, black, smelly muck (look it up if you're not from FL) that would arrive by dump truck once a year. I was made to do these things when I wanted to be in the woods, playing in my fort, surrounded by the smell of sap from the Brazilian pepper trees, the lush greenery and shady dank out there in the woods behind our house. Instead, I'd find myself out in the yard, in the hot blazing sun doing some task that made Mam-maw's gardens grow. Why me ? Why did I have to be the one ? My cousins had a Dad and he did that stuff at their house. There wasn't one of those guys at our place, there was me and Mam-maw. Do I sound bitter ? Well, I was forever, until one day someone gave me a gift.
When I was in my early thirties and living in Pennsylvania, I was invited to go with my friend Lynne to help work in the garden of a ninety year old woman. Her name was Lillian and she was lovely. She was a retired Literature teacher at nearby Westminster College. Her house was on a shady street in the little college town of New Wilmington. The house looked plain from the front entrance, but around back were beds and beds of antique victorian-esque flowers of all kinds, Climbing Roses galore, Phlox, Hollyhocks, fruit trees, you name it, it was there. But it was out of control and it was beyond her capability to rescue it. Most perennial's from that era were self seeders and over the course of a season multiplied. Miss Lillian was also the early version of "composter", not in the sense that we now know it. This was old school style, she just chucked peach seeds or whatever veggie scraps right out the kitchen door in the direction of one of the flower beds ! Let me tell you, those beds were so rich that whatever she threw out there would start to grow, and I mean with a vengeance, there were peach saplings, bamboo (still haven't figured that one out) whatever, it was growing and thriving.
So the deal was that Lynne and I would thin out these beds and get them all tidied up and we were welcome to take home the discard pile for our own gardens. If you have ever worked with perennial's, you know you can usually chop, split and restart/plant elsewhere, multiplying your yield. We went at it full force once a week, our little ones in tow, playing in the yard while Miss Lillian in all her ninety year old loveliness sat and talked to us as we thinned the beds. It was truly one of those seasons of my life that I always look back on with such fond memories. One day, my friend came back from visiting the bathroom in Miss Lillian's house, so moved by a little list she had seen that Lillian had written. It was a "note to self" kind of thing. This lovely, scholarly woman had a reminder list of what "not to do" to combat what she thought were character flaws within herself. I will never ever forget that. Her quiet, humble demeanor, her gratefulness for all we were doing to help her. Mostly, we were struck that someone so precious was sure she needed improving upon, when we were sure she was perfect. So many lessons were learned there. Life lessons were learned in that garden.
My friend and I took our starts home and began our own perennial beds. I learned to divide and multiply plants, soon I had a lovely little garden filled with Bamboo, Climbing Roses, Scented Phlox, Peonies, Hollyhocks, Fox Gloves, Clematis, Lily of the Valley and Day Lilly's and even Carnations. All summer long I filled the house with flowers in every vessel I could find. Every resentment I'd held onto about gardening slowly melted away as I created my gardens in Pennsylvania. Three years later, we moved to Hawaii and I left my little gardens behind. I remember crying when I put the gardens to bed at the end of that last Summer there, knowing I wouldn't be there when it all unfolded again in the Spring. There would be no need of gardening in Kona, Hawaii, the whole place WAS a garden, it was a visual overload of constant fragrance and beauty.
Now, back in my homeland of Florida where I started my begrudged gardening experiences. I realize that those years spent in the garden with my Mam-maw taught me a lot about gardening in South Florida and about life. Sometimes good can come from an unhappy memory, by way of someone else coming into your life to refine that memory, make it more pleasant to reflect on, like my friend Lynne and Miss Lillian refined my garden memories for me. Those are the times I glean from. My grandmothers skill and gardening rules and the sweet fragrance of working in Miss Lillian's garden, her demeanor and character, all combine to make a wealth of gardening treasure for me to glean from.
As I look out at my gardens here at our little yellow house, I see pictures of Mam-maw's yard, the citrus trees and tropical plants and little Periwinkles and the way I have outlined my beds with bricks like she always did. Then there's the Iris and the Bamboo of Miss Lillian's Victorian garden and my lush Plumeria forest surrounding the little shed, reminding me of my time in Hawaii, where they flourished. I look out the screen and am reminded of lessons on growing vegetables by my former in laws. That's when I realize that my garden is filled with vignettes of my life, and sometimes what started out to be a bad thing just might end up being your greatest treasure. If you allow it to cultivate and grow, letting go of the old and watching it blossom into something new.
Grow and Flourish with your own fragrance, your essence of Towandatude.
**Below, some favorite memories, Miss Lillian's Iris's and my Mam-maw's happy little periwinkles, and some Plumeria, from my beloved Hawaii.**