In the garden: My mother’s garden
August 3, 2009
At the heart of my mother’s life is her passion for gardening. She has been working this particular piece of ground in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Canada for almost two-thirds of her 90 years. I saw it last week and it is still a magnificent work in progress.
When drought claimed many plants, including several majestic spruces several years ago, it is the flowers that she watered by hand. Yet, a good deal of the half-acre property is almost woodland, anchored by a beloved, gnarled sweet cherry tree she planted in the very beginning.
En route to the back door, a distracting gap marks the place where a long-lived rhododendron was inexplicably killed, presumably by frost, last winter. No decision has yet been made about its replacement, which surprises me a little, because a loss like this always presents itself as an immediate opportunity.
The walk is flanked by assorted hostas on one side, each cultivar with large leaves more fancifully patterned and corrugated than the next, and pools of chartreuse hakone grass alternating with spears of vertically striped iris leaves on the other. Another gap marks the spot where a grass plant was killed, not by weather, but by my mother’s characteristic generosity, when she dug it up to divide and share. Between these plantings and an ancient pear tree, which, together with a cedar hedge, shelter and shade them, are stepping stones and two broad strips of dark indoor-outdoor carpeting, thwarting weeds and mud equally.
Even before I turn the corner of the house, glimpses of a carnival of color can be seen against trees and shrubs, all organized by fencing, paths and edgings of stone, brick and concrete. In my garden, I try to soften and obscure all the hard edges; in this garden, they are meant to highlight the lavish plantings within. So the garden has a slightly formal air, reinforced by my stepfather’s well-maintained lawns and perfectly clipped hedges.
Drop by at 3 p.m. sharp during fair weather, and you will be served Kaffee und Kuchen on a small whimsical patio behind the house, screened from the street by a wooden lattice dripping hanging pots, from the sun by bright umbrellas, and surrounded by a profusion of roses, perennials, shrubs and annuals: a summer living room.
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My mother leads me around her astounding garden, telling the story of every corner, every plant, and sharing her countless ideas for improvement.