Sunday, March 30, 2008

A Mother's Love

When I was a little girl, really little, in the very early sixties, it was quite fashionable in our neighborhood to have a rock garden, I have mentioned this before. My family used to take regular treks to the hills to collect the perfect rock specimens for my Mother's. She would make a day out of it, and take a picnic along. I used to love those roadside picnics, before every square inch of the world was fenced.
It was on one of these excursions that our extraordinary event happened. We had an old panel van. My father had driven it off of the road and parked in a field speckled with just the right selection of rocks. This was in the hills, verging on becoming the mountains, getting near Yosemite. My family had probably enjoyed a fried chicken picnic, because that's the only kind of picnic that I remember, and afterall, they were the best. With watermelon. Naturally.
All of us were collecting stones, and depositing them into the back of the van, my three brothers, Mom, Dad and me. The children must have begun to tire of the chore of it all, because two of us were in the van, and the littlest brother was toddling over to climb in. He lifted his little leg to step up just as the van started to roll away from him. I remember so well the image of him, standing there with his little leg in the air as we rolled away. My parents weren't particularly close, I don't even remember seeing my father, but my Mother... that was a different story. I saw her running across that grassy field for all she was worth. The van was picking up speed and soon enough I could see what my Mother saw. The car with two of her children in it was headed toward the edge of a cliff. My Mother ran like the wind, and managed to catch up and was scrambling into the open side door... her hands on the back of the seat, and one foot inside, just as my older brother (who must have been about ten) clambered to the front, jumped over the seat, and slammed on the brakes, quite suddenly, and the door frame slammed into the side of her head. I feel like she managed to scramble on inside before she collapsed. I'll have to check the rest of the details... she lay down in the bed of the van with a very frightened child on each arm, comforting us. I remember, I was one of them. Rodney had saved our lives, but we would have been alright no matter what, because our Mother certainly would have, or died trying.

Friday, March 7, 2008

My Own Gardening...

As far as my own gardening goes, I adore it! In the last few years, repeated hand surgeries and asthma have kind of taken the bloom off of my own lovely garden, but still, I’m working on it. I have plans. Poor Mark.

Sometimes, when the weather is nice, I’ll step outside first thing in the morning to dead head the pretty pink, speckled-y azalea that I can see from the dining room, and then, … it’ll just take a few minutes to trim that invasive vine, and while I’m at it, … I should take the remnants of last years annuals out of the hanging basket, and since I’m out here, …I really should fertilize the …. Oh, just everything. Oh look! The hyacinths are poking through. I really need to dig that peony up and replant it, a little shallow-er. Jim Poletti says that’s why it has never bloomed. Will we ever get rid of the Elephant Ear that is killing the lawn? I’ll pull the new sprouts out. Wasps are building a nest under the tile roof, so are the sparrows! Oh the dear little birds! The topiaries could use winding up. Oh, my but those are the most perfect rose specimens I have ever seen! I’ll take a few into the house, and put them in my very favorite birdie vase. After I sweep the leaves off the bricks, Mark will be surprised! The hummingbird feeder needs to be freshened. Phone’s ringing! Hello? Oh My Goodness, no! I’m not ready yet! What time is it anyway? 2:00 o’clock!? I’m still in my nightgown and robe!

Mark will sometimes come home to find me like that. He laughs and asks, “Taking your therapy?”

He told me recently that he misses the little piles of weeds left for him all over the yard. He says he would rather pick up the piles than pull the weeds. While I, definitely would rather pull the weeds than pick up the piles. We have the perfect symbiotic relationship.

I hope, this year to break this cycle, and get back to my garden therapy sessions. I think I’m off to a good start. I bought seed packets in January. I finally remembered to plant my Sweet peas, last September! They’re growing beautifully, thank you! I untwined the lavender trumpet vine that grows next to the front porch, and trained it up onto the eaves. I need to do the one on the far side of the garage door, still. If I can just have a timely combination of warm-ish weather, unscheduled time, and good health!

I bought pole beans, again, to train over the arch at the entrance to The Boys’ Garden. Last year, it only grew up one side. This year, I think I’ll try, somehow, to protect the seedlings from a certain male dog. I am not certain as to how I will manage that, but I am certain that was the problem. And the garden needs a gate. The same blonde dog likes to go in there and peep through the knot holes at our neighbors. He thinks everything interesting that goes on in the whole wide world, happens in their back yard. Last year, he trampled the bird house gourds that we were trying to grow by his constant stomping and peeping! Those seeds aren’t easy to find!

I’m ready to start that new flower bed in the front yard, under the Chinese Pistache Tree that we planted for Zach and Elizabeth’s wedding. Jim Poletti gave me a lilac tree that he had started. He told me that it had to stay it in the pot for a year, till it developed a strong root system. It’s been a year! Time’s up! The Pistache tree grows so nearly straight up, and leafs out so late in the spring, that I think it will be the ideal environment for my beautiful new lilac. I have long wanted one since I saw Lorene Smith’s. She was a precious elderly lady, our next door neighbor, and friend at our own first house. She was in her late eighties when we met. Don’t you think lilacs are one of the most charming, old fashioned plants? And I love to imagine the beautiful, heady, perfumed fragrance when they come up, as they often do in old English literature.

I bought Nasturtium and Zinnia seeds to border the garden … … separate it from the lawn. I fancy myself some kind of worldly gardening/chef genius when I sample an edible flower! I don’t know whether or not zinnias are, but nasturtiums are definitely edible. And Zinnias are instant gratification of the cut flower kind. And I think little boys will enjoy that. Mommies, get your Birdie vases ready!

I planted my first Zinnia seeds, when we lived on Cramer Road in Auburn. They were in a free packet that came in the Better Homes and Gardens Magazine, probably the year I was 16 or 17. Instantly, I wanted a patch to grow flowers. Mom and Pop encouraged me, but I don’t remember following through. Never mind, though. It matters not. The fulfillment of planting something from seed, and having it flourish, stuck. I have some sweet, unattached memory of ladybugs, here. Hmmmm … … Wonder what that’s about.

I bought Basil seeds to sow in my hanging flower basket. Because we have so much ivy, we also have way too many snails, and apparently they love basil. Who wouldn’t? I have discovered that I can grow it safely and abundantly in a hanging basket, and I do so love to walk out into the backyard and snip something that we’ve grown for that night’s dinner. Isn’t it just the most delightful, fulfilling feeling?

I always wanted to have an herb garden, so for years, I dutifully planted herbs, never having a clue what I was supposed to do with them. Eventually, I learned what all of the excitement was about. I know now, and I definitely did not know what I was missing! But I suspected.

So … … Now I grow basil in hanging pots, and rosemary in a flower bed beside the pool. I love that the rosemary is a leftover centerpiece from Elizabeth and Justin’s wedding. (Incidentally, the wisteria is from Zach and Elizabeth’s wedding arch. I’m saving it in pot until they buy their first house.) I have to grow almost all of the other herbs in pots in the pool yard because; Number 1, it has full afternoon sun, and Number 2, there is a gate to keep, ahem, male dogs out. Something about Bravo and flower pots. Drives me crazy.

So my Loves, this is installment #2.
Childhood Garden Memories

February 16, 2008

Today, I am embarking on a mission. Inspired by Alison May’s blog today, I am going to give provenance to my children, and my children’s children. I don’t think I will even try to define where I am going, because I think random musings will work better for me, given my rather random nature, anyway.

I will begin with violets. Why I love them. I love all of the flowers that I remember from my childhood. I don’t remember why they mean so much, but they do. I need to grow, in my own garden, anything that brings memories of my Mother’s Garden or my Grandmothers’. I can’t explain it, I just need to. I suppose I remember every flower shrub and tree with which I had a personal relationship, in each one of their gardens from my very early childhood. From the apartments that we lived in before Steve was born (when I was 3½), to Grandma Cole’s mint that she grew under her kitchen window, and Grandma New’s Snowball bush, and raspberries and giant onion stalks in her vegetable garden. Maybe my childhood was spent in gardens, because I remember gardens that have no particular person attached to them. I remember sucking on Four O’Clocks and climbing the giant fig tree at Grandma Cole’s. In writing this, I am just flooded with memories of eating Grandma New’s peaches right off the tree, and a funeral reception, I think, when with the other children; I ate the most delicious plums I have ever tasted to this day, in somebody’s back yard orchard.

My Mother’s first garden, in the first house she owned, had violets growing next to the back step outside the kitchen door. That’s all. They were beautiful, and I loved them. I yearned for just such violets, until I was finally able to procure a few sets of my own. A child’s mind once imprinted with something delicious and wonderful, I think, will retain it always. I think it was there that I established my first clear definition of beauty, and it was partly that violet patch. It was my Mother, too, and the way she wore her hair, and our lawn, when it really needed to be mown. I loved the blades of grass when they were just a little floppy. It was the perfect place for my imagination to hide miniature thoughts and dreams. Yes, it was just perfect.

Grandma New had violets, too. I don’t remember where they grew, but the violets in my own backyard are the progeny of the violets that she brought out from Oklahoma many, many, many years ago. I have the story written down someplace, about how Grandma got them, and where they came from before that. I remember they were growing beside a pig pen. I will include it here, eventually.

The violets in my front yard are a gift from my Father in Law, Bill Thompson. They started their history, as far as I know, in his garden in Auburn.

Along the back fence, my Mother grew roses. They were beautiful and smelled like strawberries. We used to catch the bees in canning jars as they collected the pollen from the roses. Warm summer smells come back to me. The sounds. You can’t tell how long I hesitate between sentences to savor the childish memories. I used to stand on the edge of our bath tub and tiptoe to peer out the really high, really tiny window to see if I could spot the birds that I heard singing their morning greetings outside. There was an almond orchard directly beyond our back fence, and the blossoms, and the robins! Dear, dear. How I loved the robins. And ivy grew on our fence, outside my bedroom window, but I don’t know if it was ours, or an escapee from Mrs. --------‘s garden.

Next door, on the other side, Mr. and Mrs. Ivey lived with their two sons, Joel and Michael. Mrs. Ivey had a king sized flower bed full of pansies. One day, when Brian was ‘pumping’ me on his bicycle, and we fell and skinned my knee rather badly, Mrs. Ivey scooped me up, delivered me inside to my Mother, and then she brought over a pansy dish, just brimming with her beautiful pansies. It was a donut shaped bowl, short, shallow, with circular openings in which to place the lovely short stemmed little blooms. I remember that it had hand painted pansies on it. I have adored pansies since that very day, and have spent a goodly amount of time searching for a pansy vase just like hers.

The Ivey’s were Dunkard (German Baptist), and overall, a little older than our family. Mr. Ivey was a seventh grade teacher, and once held my cousin Ricky, upside down and whacked him on his back, when he gagged on a chocolate covered grasshopper that somebody gave him. Dunkard ladies are supposed to wear their hair in a bun, under a pretty, gauzy, little ‘cover’. If I recall correctly, they are not supposed to cut their hair. On a really rare occasion, I would catch a glimpse of Mrs. Ivey with her hair unfurled. She had the most beautiful, thick, shiny, chestnut hair, down to below her waist. I don’t know about Joel, but Michael grew up to be a kind of famous entomologist. Mr. and Mrs. Ivey divorced, and he became a real estate agent. I still can’t rectify that.

In our front yard, Mom had a very modern, rock garden, and she grew cacti in it. The only plant that she grew there, whose name I remember, was the Hen and Chicks. That, and the rocks made for a very hospitable environment for blue belly lizards, much to my brothers’ delight.

For a time, we had a baby Japanese Umbrella tree in the small side yard, in front, beside the driveway. It grew between our house, and the Ivey’s. I used to lie on the lawn under that little tree for hours and hours, and daydream, and watch for shapes in the clouds. I remember hanging a ‘clothesline’ in the tree, and pinning my dolls’ clothes to it to ‘dry’ in the breeze, just like my Mommy did in our backyard. A wind storm blew the pretty little tree over.

Grandma and Grandpa Cole’s house had a really big yard, with two spiked “black walnut” trees, standing sentinel over her front walk. I loved that from a distance, you could tell where their house was, because you could see those trees above all the others.
She grew Four O’Clocks next to her front steps. We would pull the little trumpet shaped flowers off of their stems, and pretend to blow them. They tasted like nectar. Grandma also grew mint, directly under her kitchen window. I never knew, or for that matter, wondered why, but years later, in my adulthood, I learned that ants won’t bother mint, and that it is a time honored custom, to plant it anywhere that you have trouble with ants. In my case, though, I discovered that the mint is a pest in its own right, and it pretty much took over the flower bed under my kitchen window. Now, when I grow it, I keep it contained in a pot.

I have three rosebushes that were my Grandma Cole’s. Mom started them from cuttings, before Grandma replaced them. They are all miniature roses. All very old fashioned roses, one is thorn less and a deep coral, and grows like a cabbage. One is a lovely soft pink, covered in thorns, a think petaled bud that fades to nearly white in the full sun of summer. The third is a perfect miniature deep red rose, that is also thorn less, and therefore I planted it beside the swimming pool, where it will neither puncture inflatable toys that find their ways into its branches, nor will it tear bare skin, if a swimmer should inadvertently brush into the bush.