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My Mother's Garden: Beginnings

My mother — Ellen — remembers what started her gardening: her great-aunt Frances' place, where something was always in bloom. Frances encouraged her to make arragnements; young Ellen was glad to!

The first garden of her own, she began around age six, in an out-of-the way corner of the lumber yard where her family lived. On trips to the country, she dug up and brought home wild violets, spring beauties, bloodroot, red trillium, and jack-in-the pulpit.

Then Ellen got distracted by other activities, eventually graduating from Purdue as the only woman of nearly a hundred Civil Engineers in her class. Later (I was thirteen) she used those skills when our family moved to an old house in the country, nestled in a valley where water bubbled up from springs and collected in a swamp. She and my Dad consulted with the state, sampled the subsoil, surveyed the valley, hired bulldozers to raise an earth damn, and created a three-acre pond. But that's getting ahead of the story....

Ellen married soon after graduating. Then came five babies in eleven years — and not much time for gardening. At the family's first house, she mainly remembers planting mailorder daylilies beside the walk from the house to the garage. The second house came with incredible landscaping. She was too busy to take care of it, didn't even know what all was there — but it made a big impression on her. Especially the rock wall at the rear, which had plants growing all over it.

It turns out the whole city — Rochester, New York — was once famous for its nurseries (23 in 1871). When they eventually moved out of town, some made a practice of planting valuable trees and shrubs in the land they vacated, to improve the land they sold to developers.

Finally when the family moved to the valley, we kids were in school, and Mom could work in the yard. "I really gardened then!" she recounted to me, with relish. First, rock walls: in terraces up the hill in back of the house. With things planted all over them.

Housework was assigned to us kids. But never any garden work, not even weeding. Recently I asked why; Mom said she didn't like vacuuming and dusting — but she liked weeding. Still she did ask me to make flower arrangements when company was coming. And so I got bit by the same bug Great-great Aunt Frances gave my mother.

© Copyright 2003 Catherine Holmes Clark

Published in the six Nashoba Publishing papers on Friday, 7 May 2003

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