Backyard Nature Wednesday: I remember Mama

My mother died on the first day of spring in 2004. I've often ruminated on the unfairness of that - that she should have died on the first day of the season she loved best.

My mother was a gardener, you see, and she looked forward to spring as the time that her garden would begin again. She spent winter poring over seed catalogs and planning what she would plant. She was a farm wife and her emphasis and most of her energies were always spent on the vegetable garden. As a farm family, we grew most of our own food. But she also grew some flowers and other ornamentals as food for the soul. I have essentially reversed her gardening practices, growing mostly ornamentals with a few vegetables on the side.

I often think about my mother when I'm gardening. I sometimes feel that she is very close, looking over my shoulder and maybe shaking her head at my stupidity. I think of her most often when I'm working on some of the old-fashioned plants that she grew. 

Plants like four o'clocks. When I was very little, my mother grew four o'clocks by our back porch steps and I often played there next to them. I must have been no more than five or six years old when I first started noticing how their blooms would only open up late in the day. Throughout the rest of the day, they remained tightly closed. That seemed somehow magical to me, but I wondered why the blooms would be open only at night when there was no one around to enjoy them. Of course, much later I understood that this was the strategy the plant had developed to get itself pollinated. It opened its flowers at night to feed the creatures of the night, things like moths and bats, and their symbiotic relationship worked perfectly.
My mother also grew a few roses. The pride of place in her garden belonged to a big red rose and an equally large white one. I don't know their names. Every Mother's Day when we went to church, my mother would clip one of the red roses and pin it on me as a corsage. She would take one of the white roses and pin it on herself. She explained to me that the red rose symbolized that my mother was living and the white rose showed that her mother was dead. My mother had lost her own mother at age twelve. I never understood what a terrible loss that was for her until very much later in my life.

Of course, everyone grew the old tawny day lilies, called ditch lilies because, in fact, they have naturalized and grow wild in and around ditches all over the South. My mother grew them, too. Much later, after I had married a Texan and moved here, I dug some of those ditch lilies from her garden and brought them here. They remind me of her every time they bloom.

A couple of years before she died, my mother gave me some cypress vine plants from her garden. I planted them next to the fence that surrounds my veggie garden and they have grown there ever since. They are annuals but they reseed profusely and every year there are more of them. Want some cypress vine plants? 

The tubular-shaped blossoms of the cypress vine are perfect for attracting hummingbirds. Butterflies also love them.

And petunias, of course. My mother always grew petunias and they had the most wonderful scent, unlike so many of the modern varieties that seem to have no scent at all. My mother also gave me my start with these petunias, and, like the cypress vines, they reseed themselves every year, sometimes in the most astonishingly unlikely places - like the crack in a concrete walkway.
Gardening is an arduous, sweaty, exhausting activity, but it is also meditative and a transcendental exercise that allows us to connect with Mother Earth, and, if we are lucky enough to have had a mother who gardened, with our own physical mothers. I'm very glad that I finally learned that. One of my deepest regrets is that I didn't listen more carefully when my mother was trying to impart her gardening wisdom, but I'm grateful for what little I can remember. Thanks, Mama. 


  1. Beautiful tribute to your mom, Dorothy, and I am glad you feel her spirit watching over you in a hobby that means so much to you.

    1. My mother would be very amused to see that I turned into an avid gardener. I always resisted so much when she tried to interest me in it as a child.

  2. Dorothy, this could have been written by me--our mothers had much in common, apparently. My mother always had a huge vegetable garden and canned and froze the produce which got us through the winter. She loved flowers, too, but they were the "extras," something she grew just for the enjoyment of it. Also like you, I wasn't all that interested in gardening when I was younger and regret now that I didn't listen more to her advice at the time. When I did get into gardening, she was one I could always talk to, and she enjoyed seeing what I was growing. I think of her often this spring as I work in the garden. A lovely tribute to your mother.

    1. Isn't it strange how, as we get older, we discover that our parents who were clueless when we were teenagers actually knew a lot more than we gave them credit for? And then we end up wishing that we had listened to them more. Human nature is very weird, indeed.

  3. Wonderful tribute to your mother and gardening. I could relate to every bit of it including the day lilies and the petunias. Thank you for posting it.

  4. What a lovely post Dorothy. Beautiful tribute to your mother.

    1. Well, she was a beautiful human being and a wonderful gardener.


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