We have cumbersome snow banks encircling us on every side as I write this column in early February. Can I instantly project myself into May, I ask? And June? Why not? I saw the first brave Horned Larks seeking for grit along our roadsides recently. The activity of our flamboyant pair of Cardinals, six perky Blue Jays, our suet-loving Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers, and our jaunty gray and white Juncos are a constant joy. And to these add six pert Tree Sparrows, some busy Nuthatches, along with clouds of House Sparrows plus one cross old starling, and you have a picture of our much visited bird feeder. They are reminders of all the birds yet to return in the spring.
My mind marches ahead to an anticipated 1976 garden. What will our yards produce beside the staple vegetables which keep us eating? I would recommend to every young gardener the planting of a suitable section reserved for memories. As the years pass this becomes ever more interesting, especially when certain plants become irreplaceable.
Some of my prize tulip bulbs were purchased at a hardware store in Hopkinsville, Kentucky. Our eldest son was in the Paratroopers at one time and was stationed at Fort Campbell when we visited him. On a sunny Saturday afternoon we drove to the nearest town to absorb some local color and flavor. This was about twenty years ago, but each spring I am greeted with bright membories of that day. Paul came in first man that weekend in spot jumping and hit the sound truck as he came down. He put a dent in the fender with his body and was limping rather painfully for the duration of our visit.
My fern-leafed peony is growing into a beautiful specimen of plant life. The root came from a most vociferous lady whom our growing children dubbed 'The Talky Lady.' I'm not sure I can recall her name either. She has passed on now but she comes vibrantly alive each spring when her rare gift breaks forth from fat vermilion buds.
There is another perennial which explodes into a bright yellow specimen each year. This one I can't really identify, so it adds mystery to my garden. I dearly loved my neighbor who gave me a piece of her root. Our viewpoints on religion were quite different, however, but our shared plant never seemed to mind.
Next to the Garden Heliotrope grows a lovely semi-double cerise rose which originally came with early settlers from Pennsylvania. A gracious lady from this family shared it with my mother. She was my ideal of what a Christian lady should be. It is a thrill to have one of her roses in remembrance of her sweetness and piety. My one regret is that it has no fragrance.
Last year I decided I just must have a Cabbage Rose, and it had five or six blossoms with a fragrance to more than make up for the other's lack. You see, my mother had cabbage roses, but somehow they were lost. This one is even prettier, and much sturdier. Mother's was so easily ruined by rain.
At the end of the clothesline is an unusual shrub which is an offshoot of a bush owned by another old friend who shed her cheer to every one around her. She was childless but adopted every neighborhood kid as her own. She goes way back to the bright days in our country school. All four of these women are gone, but I have a bit of each in my garden. Just think ... a conversational Peony, a nameless neighborly yellow bloomer, a saintly Rose, and a schooled Euonymus!
A shared root from a friend or neighbor seems to send up stronger shoots and produce brighter blossoms. There is love down there! And what a good feeling it is to share your garden treasures with others.
It makes me happy to hear a daughter-in-law or daughter exclaim, 'Say, Mother, can I have a start of that in the spring?' I think to myself 'Aha, after I am gone she may say, That prize is from Mother's garden. Isn't it beautiful?'
Our country is 200 years old this bi-centennial year. We needed to get back to some of the simple things such as shared gardens, visiting our neighbors, swapping old-fashioned recipes.
Along with all my memoried flowers grows a lasting happiness. But one plant I treasured the most, I lost. My next door neighbor, Mabel, found this gorgeous petunia in a greenhouse one spring. Never have I seen such ruffled purity! She and I both nurtured it summer and winter, but finally we both failed. We almost wept.
There is nothing left of that petunia's beauty and heavy fragrance but the poem which is to follow. Mabel is gone, but never the memory of our sharing. Henry Nevard was the rose I teamed with her charm. Henry is with me still.
And what may seem like somewhat of a miracle is the fact that after Mabel passed on, her sister-in-law called with a touching offer. She wanted me to come and choose one of Mabel's pieces of milk glass for my collection. No one had seen the poem I had written since her death, nor the mention of milk glass. I will now share it with you.
SHE - AND RED ROSES
Once upon a
time I grew a petunia.
My charming neighbor
brought the straggly slip.
It had no promise
I was unimpressed.
But Oh! Such ruffled loveliness
She offered God each fragrant day!
One heavy wintertime
she passed away in spite
Of ardent indoor care.
Each spring our quest in greenhouses
was for such pristine beauty
Chaste as hers.
We met with failure. We shall search
no more, for glorified, her whiteness
Again she'll grow beside the heavenly
door of our two neighboring homes.
She was too rare for earth . . .
She, and red roses in a milk glass bowl.