Sunday, May 11, 2008
Happy Mother's Day to the Hellebore Queen
I inherited my love of plants from my mother, the Hellebore Queen. She often took me plant-shopping with her at Mr. Miles' nursery, a wonderfully shabby labyrinth of clear-plastic greenhouses and planting beds behind a modest house on the other side of town. I would like to say that I was a plant prodigy, that at age five I knew the best cultivars for our Zone 8 climate, and that I frequently stopped on my tricycle to advise gardeners on proper pruning technique.
I'd like to say that, but it's not true. I probably knew the names of more plants than your average kindergartener, but mainly what I knew was that I loved being surrounded by plants. I loved the woods and swamp behind our house and am grateful to my mother for letting me wander alone out there for hours, requiring only that I be home for supper. I loved the enormous magnolia in our front yard, the top of which afforded me a view of our neighborhood available to no one else. I loved the azaleas that attracted bees, the crabapple tree which provided my brother and me a fine supply of grenades to hurl at each other, the Wandering Jew and ivy vines which developed roots like magic if you put them in water for a few days.
My mother bought me my first plant from Mr. Miles. I remember that it was an evergreen, I think some variety of Euonymus, which I planted beside the garage where it thrived under, or maybe in spite of, my watchful care. She bought me tiny cacti from Edward's department store, which I kept in my room, as well as an asparagus fern which I believed needed to be talked to in order to grow. (I spoke to it regularly and it did quite well, so who's to say?)
When I was in college and scavenging furniture for my first apartment, she provided me with a variegated philodendron in a straw basket. (I think maybe she didn't really like it but felt badly about throwing out a perfectly healthy plant.) In any case, the philodendron went to my apartment, followed me to two more apartments in Chapel Hill, a bachelor pad in Greensboro, Teresa's and my first house, then to Edenton, and back to Greensboro, where it trails off the bookcase over my right shoulder. It has lost its variegation over these last twenty years, and it often doesn't get watered for months at a time, and I'm not fond of houseplants, but of course I can't get rid of it now.
If you really want to see my mother's influence on my garden, come to my house. The hellebores in the front bed...from her. The beardtongue in the Charleston garden, the lantana that tempts the butterflies and hummingbirds, the forsythia that welcomes spring in an explosion of yellow, the deciduous azalea, the bearded irises, the Stella d'Oro, the hyacinths, the beebalm, the yarrow...I've never counted, but I'll bet more than half of my plants came from her. (To see the number of plants she's given me, you would think her yard is bare now. You would be wrong.)
More valuable than all the plants, however, she has given me a love of dirt and the things that grow in it, two gifts that I can take with me anywhere and which always keep me close to the Source of all life.
Thank you, Mama, and Happy Mother's Day!