Grandmothers in the Garden

It was my Grandmother who somehow inadvertently taught me that there was a relationship between the plant and a caretaker. That if you watered something and paid attention to it, it would grow. Even flourish. Mind you I don’t have any recollection of my Grandmother ever gardening. The sheer suggestion that my Grandmother would ever have her hands in the DIRT is impossible to imagine. She was far too regal and well appointed. Nails done, hair coiffed. Accessorized. That sort of thing. However I firmly had the impression, and continue to solidly believe, that any living plant which arrived in her hands was in capable hands and thus ensured a stable, healthy life. Ironically (and quite fittingly) the only plant I actually recall associated with her hands, which I can with confidence point to, was a piece of ivy which (the story goes) a friend smuggled back into the States after surreptitiously snipping it from Buckingham Palace (or was it Windsor Castle?). My Grandmother would never see either, (though there was that courageous journey to spend a month with me in Amsterdam–does that count? I suppose not…) but there at her senior apartment on the front patio that ivy wound its way up the wooden columns in a most majestic manner and spilled out over the walkways and up the roof like it somehow intuited it was appropriately in the care of the most noble of persons and thus thrived. And that was that. And that is all I remember of Grandma in a garden.

Oh there was a fenced in rose garden in our lovely back yard in Ohio when I was a child, but that garden was always attributed to my Grandfather, whom I also never actually saw working in it. (They must have had a gardener tending it during the day while I was at school.) Nevertheless my intention is to talk about Grandmothers in the Garden, and so I put these memories in their place and move to the world at large and to the living. And this brings me to Betsy.

Betsy was one of the two greatest gifts I received in my two-year adventure of
living in North Carolina. (The other was my yoga teacher.) I met her as I wandered through the labyrinth of churches of Appalachia. Because that’s what you do in the South. You go to church. People invite you to their churches. It’s a courtesy and a welcoming. Of the dozen churches I visited, one of them was the Unitarian Church–never quite religious enough for my tastes, but still high minded–and it was there I met Betsy (and her lovely husband, Al). And she basically adopted me, thank God. And upon gradually learning of her extra-ordinary skills and interests, I proclaimed her to be my Chosen Mother. I was so touched when they invited me to visit them in their home in a nearby community, and upon arrival I was met with this lovely row of Bradford Pears.

Bradford Pears

Betsy and Al, it turns out, are among those bi-nomadic couples that spend summers in New England and winters in the warmer South. Every summer Betsy and her husband head north where they are soon joined by their five grandchildren who all live abroad. In true grandmotherly fashion, because she has missed the individual birthdays of her five grandchildren, whom she
adores, Betsy hosts a grand collective birthday party in the garden. All year long she plans for this event and buys several gifts appropriate for each child. The day of the grandchildren’s birthday party she hides each of the gifts about the property, and then she presents each child with a poem she has written for each and every gift, offering clues where they might be found! (Do you believe it?) Here is a sampling:

for Verity, age 11:

Your creative side shines through
Both here and across the sea
To stimulate your talents
Is a gift by the tall pine tree

for Aidan, age 13:

Because you are a sprinter
Destinations come up fast
So when you get to the mailbox
You’ll find a present at last

for Django, age 8:

Imagination defines your being
Your illustrations are the best
A gift to enhance your drawings
Hides under a bed for a guest

Cherished grandchildren frolicking in the garden under the loving wing of a creative, caring grandmother such as Betsy becomes the stuff of shared lifelong treasured memories. Using our gardens as the stages for such beautiful family rituals, they become forever imbued with the energies and joy of those we love. We should all be so lucky.

9 Responses to “Grandmothers in the Garden”

  1. Being a grandmother I especially enjoyed this posting. I hope the memories of my backyard are pleasant ones for my grandkids. A couple of them expressed concern when Gary and I suggested we might move. Marissa (9 yrs old at the time) said: “Grandma, you can’t move, you have the best backyard in the world!” That put an end to looking for another home.

  2. This brings back wonderful memories of my grandmother. I don’t remember her gardening, but my grandfather had an amazing green thumb and ran a nursery (which supported them through the Depression) for almost 50 years, and had a garden well into his 90s. I still cannot smell a rose to this day without thinking of warm summer days at my grandmother’s house, where she would fill huge vases with every kind of rose imaginable. My sister was even married in their garden. One more note: My family thinks I’m nuts because I love the smell of manure…something I associate with my grandfather’s nursery. Thanks for the memories, K.
    Anita Bruzzese

  3. What a wonderfully rich memory, Anita! Wow. To have a grandfather with a nursery and full
    access to many roses! Irreplaceable!

    Kathryn xox

  4. What a fantastic memory!

  5. Thank you for the grandmother memory. I have an “adopted mother” too. She is a wonderful gardening friend named Wanda, who taught me so much while she lived in Oklahoma. I also learned first about gardening at my Grandma Nita’s knee, literally. I remember squatting down in the rich black soil and looking at a cabbage moth and the worm. My first lesson on insects, non-beneficial.

    Beautiful post. Thanks for sharing with me.

  6. What a beautiful ode to your grandmother. My maternal grandmother had passed away a year before I was born. I never knew my paternal grandmother. My childish memories flourished with day and night dreams of having such a relationship with a grandmother. I’d been to friend’s homes and watched their grandmothers with an envious eye. How fortunate you were. I have tried to be the grandmother that I wanted for my grandchildren, but unfortunately, in this mobile world, the kiddies have moved, and I have moved. It’s hard to get that “grandmotherly” feeling when you’re so far removed from each other and busy schedules preclude this from happening.
    Thank you for a beautifully-written article.

  7. I agree, Dodie, that we have to be especially creative these days in keeping our families glued together over time, distance and space, especially in this great big land of ours! Thank you for your thoughts and kind words. Kathryn

  8. You click on one link and then another, and suddenly you arrive at this place called “Plant Whatever Brings You Joy”. I’ve read several of your posts and enjoyed them all, especially this reminisce about your grandmother.

    I remember my grandmothers’ gardens but I also don’t remember seeing them do the actual gardening. They must have done that when I wasn’t visiting. Now I wish that I had been a bit older and more interested to go and help in their gardens so I could learn from them.

    Carol, May Dreams Gardens

  9. Hi, Carol! Yes, we always wish we’d asked so and so or learned such and such after they are gone.
    I saw your site with your grandmother’s diary! What a fascinating idea! I do genealogy, so I can
    really appreciate what you’ve done. Also loved the HOE collection! Bravo!

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