A Gardener's Legacy


This marshy area leads down to a creek that feeds our pond. But the foundation of an old barn is on the other side of the creek. And another gardeners' garden must have grown near here once upon a time. The area is full of a white-flowered yarrow, an "escape" from some garden long gone.

EVERY GARDENER KNOWS HOW EASILY OUR WORK CAN FADE AWAY. Even as we're making it, the garden is already trying to unmake itself. Turn it over to someone else, and the garden certainly will be changed, this being a gardener's prerogative. The last point was brought home to me most recently (although hardly for the first time) while reading a New York Times article about the fate of the old walled garden at Hadspen House in Somerset, which was designed by famous British garden writer Penelope Hobhouse. Her own son, Niall Hobhouse, has bulldozed his mother's garden and is now holding a sort of contest for ideas on how to redo it!

But then again, sometimes gardens refuse to fade away. How many of us, I wonder, first became interested in gardens and gardening after reading or seeing some version of Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden? The author, who had become a Christian Scientist after the death of her son, used a neglected but still living garden as a metaphor for the indomitable human spirit.

I recently remarried my ex-husband, and my own garden let me down. I wanted to decorate with flowers from the garden. But everything I'd planted was either just done blooming or hadn't quite started blooming yet.

And then some other gardeners' flowers came to my rescue, flowers that were a planted by a gardener whose name I may never know. (Although, this being a small community, there's a good chance one of my neighbors will be able to help me figure this out.) The area shown in the picture above lies between my house and an area that used to hold an old barn. The barn's foundation is still there, and I've often thought that this would be a great location for my own "Secret Garden."

I can't have been the first person to want to garden in this area, because it's full of the white-flowered yarrow Achillea ptarmica "The Pearl." It's one of several old-fashioned garden plants (including old roses, lilacs, and white narcissus) that are frequently found around old homesteads here. (FYI, "The Pearl," a garden center staple to this day, refers to any A. ptarmica with double flowers. Or so says the Missouri Botanical Garden.)

Thanks to the gardener who once planted this yarrow, no doubt looking forward to bouquets herself (and somehow I just know that this gardener was a woman), I was able to collect an armload of white flowers for my wedding decorations. With the addition of some ox-eye daisies (regarded as a weed in many parts of North America) and a few yellow cosmos that had volunteered in the garden, I had enough white and yellow blooms to fill a couple of vases. When a dear neighbor dropped by with flowers from her own garden, I ended up with three.

Thanks to these gardeners, one a friend in the present and one a friend from the past, I have been able to begin my married life surrounded by flowers. Thanks to the friend long gone, one of these flowers symbolizes the power of certain things, such as love perhaps, to persist.



Gifts from the fields: "The Pearl" yarrow, yellow cosmos, and daisies.

3 comments:

jodi said...

What a lovely posting, Flora. I'm glad you had flowers to make your happy day even more lovely.

And do you know, I may be the ONLY gardener who has never read The Secret Garden?

Wild Flora said...

Dearest Jodi,
Thank you for your good wishes. To be honest, I'm not sure I ever read the original Secret Garden myself. Most likely the indelible memories I have of that book come to me via one of the old movie versions. The book is out of copyright in the United States, so there are several versions available for free online: two at Project Gutenberg and another, complete with illustrations from the 1910 first edition, at this address: http://www.childrensnursery.org.uk/secret-garden/index.html
Cheers,
WF

pinenut said...

Congratulations on your wedding and your lovley post. Your story reminded me of a section of Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, where she celebrates her 50th birthday by asking friends to each bring her a plant. One friend brought her 50 bulbs that she used to line a walkway, others brought her a miscellany of plants that are now her friendship garden to enjoy for the next 50 years.

Gardens aren't just a symbol of the indomintable human spirit. They're one of the reasons for the indominatable human spirit!