Monday, May 9, 2011

My Mother's Garden

mothers garden1
Like a member of the family -- fifty years of care and still going strong!

(I tried to post for Mother's Day, but first I had internet problems, then html befuddlements.  And then my kids said as a Mother's Day gift they would work in the yard with me without complaint all day.  Who was I to turn down such an offer?!)

In search of my mother's garden, I found my own.
-- Alice Walker

Mother’s Day has always been heralded by Mom’s irises bursting into giant grape popsicle blooms.

The rhizomes of the waist-high bearded irises in my garden are offspring of those that she had planted beside my childhood home over 50 years ago.  When Dad moved out of that house several years after Mom was gone, I wanted – more than any particular heirloom furniture or china – the heirloom irises that had bloomed every spring on the west side of our home along the driveway, greeting us with a riot of color as we stepped out of the car.

I’ve continued to dig them up and carry them from home to home.  They’re nothing like the showy hybrids that are such the gardening rage today.  The buds wrap tight in a dark matte purple of cabbage or plums more than the more royal hue or the delicate lavender flounces of modern miniatures.  The long falls drape with a slight ruffle on the edge, enlivened only by the rich gold and white beards enticing the pollinators in to the center of the flower.

Mom didn’t have master gardener credentials.  Tulips in the front planter were about as elaborate as she got.  Throughout the years the yard harbored forsythia, bridal wreath spirea, lilacs, and bagworm-infested junipers.  She let me plant vegetables almost every summer in holes our dog had dug in the back yard (I backfilled with more dirt), but they rarely produced a harvest because in my youthful impatience I dug up the carrots to see if they were ready then unsuccessfully replanted them so they could finish growing.

But the irises propagated with abandon.  On early summer evenings Mom was out there stabbing her garden fork into the tangled mass of iris plants and laying them out on the driveway for me to pull apart.  I selected the largest for her to replant, all the fans facing in the same direction.  The extras often made their way into the gardens of neighbors, family, and friends.   Mom always had such a bounty to share.

My garden has grown much larger than anything she ever attempted.  I experiment with larger vegetable beds than my dog ever dug, herbs, wildflowers, shade gardens, butterfly plantings.  My world is much larger too, with travel and college degrees and friends across distant borders.  But by the front corner of my house, greeting the world of people who stroll past every day, is the colorful reminder of Mom’s ancient sturdy stock, which I’ll nurture for my children until they find a place to plant their own roots.  And a few from those who came before.
Ellen Francis Farrar on the eve of her first Mother's Day with my older sister, Nanci
mothers garden2

Now I leave you with a few thoughts by and about mothers.  Feel free to share your own favorite quotations about motherhood, garden stories, or other thoughts in the comments section.

By and large, mothers and housewives are the only workers who do not have regular time off. They are the great vacationless class.
-- Anne Morrow Lindbergh

A mother is a person who seeing there are only four pieces of pie for five people, promptly announces she never did care for pie.
-- Tenneva Jordan

I'm going to stop punishing my children by saying, "Never mind! I'll do it myself."
--  Erma Bombeck

Your responsibility as a parent is not as great as you might imagine.  You need not supply the world with the next conqueror of disease or major motion-picture star.  If your child simply grows up to be someone who does not use the word "collectible" as a noun, you can consider yourself an unqualified success.
--  Fran Lebowitz

A mother is not a person to lean on, but a person to make leaning unnecessary.
-- Dorothy Canfield Fisher

Everybody wants to save the earth; nobody wants to help Mom with the dishes.
-- P. J. O'Rourke

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