My mother’s garden continues to please her and amaze her friends. As I wrote before, my mother has become much more comfortable in her garden and is looking after it with the attention and pride of a mother who just gave birth to a cute child. The last time I checked in on my mother, her sister (my aunt) was visiting from Florida and it was time to trim the roses. A few months ago my mother didn’t even know she had a rose bush, but it was there, hidden in the back yard.
After we had rehabilitated the two front beds in the house mid-spring, we went to the back and saw an out-of-control bittersweet. As I started to pull it out I realized that there was a rose bush as well as a Japanese maple covered by the choking leafs.
“Mom, did you know you have a rose bush in the back?”
“What rose bush?”
After I pointed it out, she had no idea how the rose got there. But I had an idea.
When we were young, my father installed a split-rail fence around the property and planted a rose bush between each set of posts. In the early years, they bloomed expansively covering the top rails. They were planted in colored sequence—yellow, red, white, pink—up the side street and around the front. My mother used to go out to smell the roses and look with wistful pleasure at her flowering property line. But years of children trampling over and lawn mowers not respecting them led to their slow and steady demise so that decades later there would be but a few survivors. (These survivors were a blessing for me as I used to clip their flowers and bring a bouquet to my future mother-in-law while I was courting my wife.)
My father eventually took down the fence and I believe he took the single remaining rose and planted it in the back yard without telling anyone. Over a decade later, my mother and I found it and a self-seeded Japanese maple.
I first cut down the bittersweet as best I could and then dug out the maple. My mother decided to plant it near the corner of the house. We then dug in lots of manure and compost.
That was a few months ago and since then the roses have been plentiful and the bush has tripled in size. My mother and her sister loved going out and looking at the new gardens. But it was time to dead head the rose bush.
I gave my mother my pruners and even in her weak, arthritic hands they worked well. For me this was pretty amazing as a few years ago, my mother would not take care of a plastic plant and now she was enthusiastically and carefully trimming off dead branches and buds of a rose bush that was first planted on our property over 40 years ago. She started on one side and then moved over to another. We talked about the house’s old rose bushes and those at her mother’s house. She used her cane to gather the cuttings in one pile so it would be easy for me to rake everything up and cart it away. As there we a few spent buds she couldn’t reach I took the trimmers from her. She directed me on what to cut and where. “You missed that one in the back. . .Not so much from the front. . .Don’t forget that one.”
After we were finished we all sat down and I asked her and my aunt about their mother and if she was a big gardener. “Oh yes,” said my aunt. “Mother had a wonderful garden.”
“We used to make dolls out of hollyhocks,” added my mother.
With that stimulus, my mother and aunt started to talk about their mother’s garden. There was a line of lilies along the side of their house along with white, purple, yellow and pale violet irises. My aunt’s favorite flower was the peony and she loved the scents in the garden.
In the back of the house there was a rock garden with big Japanese poppies where she and my mother spent lots of time as children playing dress up with their mother’s old clothing. They argued over who was the princess most of the time and the different colors and types of flowers that were around the rock garden and how they would roll down the hill at their Uncle Bill’s house. They started to laugh and exchange silly stories about when they were both girls. I just sat back and watched how having just a little garden has changed my mother. She now likes to go outside to water and deadhead her flowers. It makes her feel good, especially when the neighbors notice and complement her on how nice everything looks. And for me it’s the best as I can sit back and listen to stories about her youth and my grandmother than I would never have gotten to hear otherwise.