I call myself the practical herbalist. Pragmatism is a value that I hold in high regard. I dress in clothing that fits comfortably. I strive to cook food that is flavorful and nutritious. I recycle. I can. I save paper scraps for notes instead of buying scratchpads. I live a fairly frugal life.
My garden fits into this value system too. The plants I choose for my garden must fit into a few categories. They must be either: medicinal, edible for the family and/or our pets, or beneficial for wildlife. I believe that these standards give me a lot of wiggle room. I have a lot of native plants, a lush vegetable garden and a healthy collection of fruit trees. I am very proud of my list. It brings order into my tiny world.
I am also my mother’s daughter so there are exceptions to the rule. For those who do not know my mother (and I am sorry for you that haven’t had the pleasure of meeting her); she is the consummate artist. She sewed, beaded and painted. She wasn’t just an art teacher, she was an art lover. She made boxes of Christmas tree ornaments, painted hydrangeas on the walls of her living room and even made the decorative tiles along her kitchen splash guard.
My mother had a garden of flowers. She grew orchids and African violets indoors to astonishing sizes. Outside, her lilac bushes were the size of trees. Roses attracted ever bee in the neighborhood. Bulbs that were hidden from view all winter, exploded with stunning pastels just in time for Easter. Her yard was bursting with color. A spring day at my mother’s house would put Rainbow Brite to shame. She placed her plants where they would be the prettiest.
In contrast, I place my plants where they would grow the healthiest. My yard looks like the Jolly Green Giant’s refuse pile. It is chaotic but, gosh darn it, if it ain’t healthy. If it wasn’t for my mother’s influence, it would be a visual abomination.
It was my mother that encouraged me to plant daffodils. Daffodils are so poisonous that deer won’t even eat them. It was my mother that encouraged me to plant the lilacs. Yes, the mason bees like them but I sure could have planted a native shrub instead. It was my mother that encouraged me to plant tulips. Tulips don’t even bloom as long as daffodils. What was I thinking?
Thanks to my mother, I have had people pull over when driving past my house and get out to look at my garden. They ask about the herbs and native plants but it is the flowers catch their eyes. The only reason these people took a minute to learn about the plants that I value is because of the plants my mother values.
Last month, my mother passed away. I am devastated. She was the most influential woman in my life and I adored her. People ask me how I am and I tell them that I am fine. I am trying very hard to stay busy so that I don’t fall apart. Falling apart is, however, very good medicine in small doses.
This morning, after my errands were done, I brewed a hot cup of tea and sat on the front porch to watch the rain. The hyacinth and daffodils bent in the wind. The daphne and forget-me-not stood up bravely to the weather. Every color was shining in the rain. Even in my mess of a yard, I could see why people pause to admire the beauty of the flowers.
The cup of one of the pink tulips filled with water and opened a petal to drain. This tiny waterfall overwhelmed me. It was such a simple moment and yet so beautiful. I fell apart.
I was caught in the poetry of a vision that my mother brought me after years of encouragement to celebrate aesthetics I didn’t know I had. That she could talk her bone-headed daughter to put a little art into her life was amazing. That it could bring me to tears despite my well scheduled efforts to stay strong was a down right miracle.
I needed this medicine. I will need it again. I didn’t realize until now just how medicinal a handful of flower bulbs could be. Thanks to my mother, it is time to rethink that list of mine. That little waterfall from the tulip was a hug that I desperately needed but was too proud to ask for. Thanks again, Mom. Thanks for the love.