Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Goodbye to a Gardener

My mother was born in 1930 and grew up on her family's farm in Tipton County. Her next door neighbor and lifelong best friend, Evelyn, was born in 1928 on a nearby farm. Farms in those days were not the mega-businesses they are now, but were usually small and provided both homes and livelihoods to the families that lived on them. 

Both my grandfather and Miss Evelyn’s father raised cotton or soybean crops that put a little money in the bank, grew corn to feed the cows and hogs that put meat on the table, and worked vegetable gardens that provided nearly everything else they ate. Both my mother and Miss Evelyn were well-versed in “putting up” vegetables for the winter, canning and freezing.

After they grew up and married, their fathers gave them a little piece of land on the family farms, and they built houses a stone’s throw from each other. Miss Evelyn’s house was on one little hill and our house was on the adjoining little hill. In between was a valley where Miss Evelyn planted her vegetable garden. Both she and my mother enjoyed flowers and grew what they could plant from seed or acquire from cuttings from someone else’s garden. In those days, you could stop by a stranger’s house and ask for a cutting from a rosebush in their yard and they would happily oblige.

A number of years ago, my mother transplanted a few rose campion (Lychnis coronaria) seedlings from Miss Evelyn’s garden, and when Jack and I moved to Germantown, I got a few plants from mama’s garden. It is one of my favorite plants, easy to care for with a lovely color that really brightens our garden. Garden plants connect us to people in a way that nothing else can, and I treasure this rose campion as one of only a few plants I have from my mother’s garden. 

Although my mother and Evelyn did not remain next door neighbors all their lives, they did remain friends, both in good times and bad, supporting each other through the deaths of their husbands, the deaths of children, and all the other losses that life brings. My mother is in a nursing home now, suffering from dementia and a variety of health problems. Miss Evelyn passed away last weekend.

Mama still remembers her friends and family, but the world they inhabit in her mind does not exist in 2016. So I decided not to tell her about the death of her friend and attended the funeral in her stead. T
he first song in the service was “Walking Alone in the Garden,” and the officiant spoke about Miss Evelyn's love of gardening. This made me remember that rose campion and the day mama and I admired it in Miss Evelyn's garden.

When the rose campion blooms next spring, I will think of not only my own mother, but the gardener from whose garden the plant originally came. We’ll miss you Miss Evelyn.

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