A Garden Memory

While Elizabeth’s girls were visiting me one summer, they delighted in “helping Grammy” as I worked in my gardens. I had collected a few old child-sized gardening tools I found in a yard sale, made of colorful metal with wood handles, and stored in an old, somewhat leaky watering can on my workbench.

One morning the girls dug into the soil in the rose rondel and raked it smooth They filled small clay pots with the dirt and fine mulch. They plucked stems of lavender and “planted” them into those pots.

(I don’t recall where they displayed their handiwork.)

On another day I worked in the Japanese garden on the north side of the house. They filched trimmings of elderberry I had dropped to the ground after pruning some overgrowth. With merry giggles, those intrepid little girls “planted” them alongside the boxwood hedge surrounding the herb garden around the corner from where I was working.

I never noticed until Elizabeth pointed them out to me later.

I burst out laughing. I declared that we’d simply leave them be for the time being. Two days later, the girls decided on their own that branches of dried-out leaves wouldn’t do, after all, so they pulled them all out and dumped them somewhere.

(I don’t recall where.)

In my memory of that summer, they are reminiscent of Elizabeth von Arnim’s three little girls in her novel, The Solitary Summer (1899).

Today, a dozen or so years later, the oldest of my daughter Elizabeth’s three girls is a freshman in college; the two younger girls, in high school. They have two younger brothers. I stumbled upon this story as I was flipping through one of my older garden journals.

(I don’t recall what I was looking for.)

CREDIT: Images found online Microsoft Bing search engine.


May’s birth flowers are the Hawthorn and the Lily-of-the-Valley. The hawthorne means hope, while the lily-of-the-valley symbolizes sweetness or the return of happiness, according to http://www.almanac.com, but to me May’s flower always will be the Magnolia . . .

. . . that is, the Southern Magnolia or magnolia grandiflora. That was my Daddy’s favorite flower. Usually our 10- 12-foot tree on our little country estate opened its first white buds on the first day of May, his birthday.

However, was our variety really the Sweet Bay (Magnolia virginiana), alternately called the Laurel bay or, commonly, the swamp bay? In my 80th decade, my memory sometimes play tricks on me. That may have been a sapling Daddy dug and transplanted from the Carpenter’s Creek in the pine woods beyond our property line. Several bays thrived along the creek bed and fragranced the air on warm summer evenings.

Magnolia grandiflora is a medium to large evergreen tree with glossy leaves. The tree may grow up to 120 ft (37 m) tall. It typically has a single stem (or trunk) and a pyramidal shape.

Both species of white or creamy white magnolias are historically native to the southeastern coastal areas of the United States. The grandiflora has become naturalized in the Virginia Tidewater area.

Then there is the “purple magnolia” or “tulip tree,” totally unrelated to tulips, of course. That’s Magnolia soulangeana which also flourished on our place — but that’s a story for another time.

Happy Birthday, Daddy!


April in a Northwestern Garden

Finally, the winter has passed over and beyond, although we continue to experience spells of chills. Spring chills, I reckon, as sunny days intersperse with a “misty, moisty morning when cloudy is the weather.” Unlike that nursery song, however, I don’t “chance to meet an old man cloth’ed all in leather.” My dear old man’s baggy sweater hangs loosely from his shoulders as I meet him at the door, bringing in the newspaper.

We inspect the front entry garden now cleared of all its winter debris and overgrown ground ivy. Sparse yellow jonquils dot the area. Peonies shoot up purple stalks just reaching round bracket supports I left in place last fall. An uneven row of grape hyacinths (muscari) wiggle-waggle along the front edge while tiny violets appear again in damp soil. I was afraid the winter had killed them off but — no — here they are again!

In the back lawn that we can see from our library glass doors, tulips point up from where the rosarium used to be. Pink Fairy roses once surrounded a large birdbath. Now only these tulips protrude like a ring of sentinels or guardian angels. These were the original “Yakima Reds,” as a former neighbor and I used to call them, probably because 40 or so years ago, that was the only variety available locally. They (almost) always bloomed on Elizabeth’s birthday, the 14th of April. This year, they’ll be quite late. Only the ones in the main garden beds are blooming.

Yesterday I spied the first white butterfly fluttering among the red tulips in the English border along the fence. Yes, those old Yakima reds. This morning, supported by one of my favorite canes, I was able to carry out a pitcher of water to replenish the birdbath, now on the front edge of the garden bed. Out there, those peonies are up, too, and the “Betty Prior” (c. 1935) is leafing out on long, unpruned canes. Do I leave these long canes to form shrub roses? Excuse for old lady laziness. Or inability to stand without support from my own wood cane.

Yellow tulips in the back border are getting tall and full of buds. Thick pine straw matting covers that area, good winter protection. Shall I leave it in place against a later onslaught of summer heat sure to scorch the roots? More excuses for being lazy. In Georgia, online, one may buy this stuff! Paying money for something one can gather for free, without cost.

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