I am a creature of habit, and Sunday morning is my time to go food shopping. I am the second person in the supermarket. Because I live in a bustling and over-crowded suburbanopolis, this 7:00 am ritual creates the illusion for me that I actually live in a small town. I get to visit with Sue the cashier, and Diana behind the deli counter. I also get to say good morning to the first shopper in the store.
But on this particular Sunday, the parking lot filled up early. All men. As they stumbled from their cars and walked slowly and stiffly to the doors, it looked like a scene from Morning of the Living Dead (if there was such a movie). This is Mother’s Day.
If your family is anything like mine, Mother’s Day is the unofficial start of planting season — at least that’s how it is here on Long Island. Every nursery and garden shop is packed with flats and bushes and shrubs and hanging baskets. And that idea led me to think about gardening and mothers.
My mother is the first woman who introduced me to gardening. In addition to the lessons of “please” and “thank you” and to always look both ways before crossing the street, she also taught me the importance of watering, weeding, deadheading, pinching, and always using Preen. I remember her fussing with her summer flowers; yellow roses were and still are her favorite. When I started gardening in my home and growing from seed, she told me about a flower from her childhood. She called them Lady Slippers. I found some photos, but she said they weren’t the Lady Slippers she remembered. Then, by chance, I purchased a package of balsam seeds. They are an heirloom type of seed, a pre-cursor to today’s impatiens. When they bloomed, my mother said those were the Lady Slippers she remembered. So, I grew a flat for her.
Joe’s Mom doesn’t garden so much, but she knows what she likes. She likes the little bells. I have come to learn that what she calls little bells are actually petunias. Each Mother’s Day, we give her a flat of petunias, a tradition which we have expanded in recent years. We now plant the petunias in a terra cotta strawberry pot, and each season we use the same pot with a new bunch of little bells. She loves them.
I also have very fond memories of my grandmother’s garden. She lived in Queens, NY, and her little flower bed, edged with bricks, was filled with spring flowering bulbs, gifts from Easters and Mother’s Days gone by. She also had wooden figurines of little Dutch children staked in the garden, and when my family would visit, I would weed. After my grandfather passed, my grandmother sold that house and moved into a senior citizen condo complex. Before the house was sold, I dug up the hyacinth bulbs, and replanted them at her new place. When she passed a few later, I dug up those bulbs again, and they are now planted and blooming in my front yard.
And now for Joe’s grandmother. When I first met her, she was in the beginning stages of developing dementia. Nevertheless, I was told all of the stories of this remarkable woman who loved life and lived it to its fullest. I heard all about her skill in the kitchen (including fried zucchini flowers) and why she never suffered from poison ivy (as a girl, she ate a piece of poison ivy leaf on a sandwich, thereby building up her immunity — or so the story goes. Please do not try this at home!).
Although I did not know this woman in her prime, I garden with her each day. The house where Joe and I live is the house where he grew up, and his grandmother is a presence within this yard. First, there is the evergreen in the front yard. When it was a small tree back in the ’60s, she pruned the top. Now our giant Christmas tree is the only one in the neighborhood with a three- point crown, taking it out of the running for Rockefeller Center. She is also the woman who planted the blue hyrangea in the front yard. I rooted clippings from this original shrub, and planted those along the side of the house to keep her legacy alive.
It’s the Lily of the Valley, though, that is a curse and a blessing. When I began gardening in the yard, I tried to move them. She planted them so deeply, however, that there is no way to get to the bulbs. I gave up, and now there is a huge swath of Lily of the Valley slowly encroaching on my formal plantings. But they fade when the weather warms up, and when we see them we smile and are reminded of her.
I think this is one of the most beautiful things about gardening. It taps into something within us. A memory. A tradition. A gift. A legacy. So as you all go out to celebrate this day, keep all of the gardens that you nurture alive. Happy Mother’s Day.