Sunday, May 15, 2016


The old apricot tree at the edge of the garden.
The apricot tree had weathered many seasons--planted before my birth, before my mother's birth.
Its uneven form, leaning from the tidy rectangle of a picket fence, frames the edge of a vintage photo, taken in the latter 1800's.
Behind it in springtime a peony thrust through the sparse grass, unfolding glossy leaves and tight round buds destined to burst into bouffant spheres of dark red petals.  
At the foot of the tree pale lavender iris appeared, season after season, undivided, untended. A tangle of slender rose briars spilled onto the grassy slope of the lawn, a wildling with tiny white blossoms, perhaps transplanted from a pasture hedgerow.

I have no decent photo of the small garden. 
It is a part of my earliest memories, and the rest of layout--in full color--is vivid in my mind's eye.
The garden lay a few yards beyond the formal front door of the white farmhouse--an entrance seldom used, as the semi-circle of the gravel drive swung past a welcoming side porch with a 
south-facing door.
The garden was bounded on the other end by a shrub which we called the honeysuckle bush.
Its tiny pale flowers scented the air in June, followed by small dark orange berries in late summer.
I like to think that some woman of the 1800's planned the garden, near enough to the house to be enjoyed on a summer afternoon, a pleasant and peaceful area to view from the parlor window.

The garden's creator placed a second red peony near the honeysuckle bush, and a clump of lemon lilies at the center of the narrow strip. 
Lily of the Valley flowed softly from under the lowest branches of the honeysuckle, ebbed outward toward the yellow lilies. 
At the edge nearest the house my great-grandmother planted a rambling rose.  My mother recalled the cereal boxtops saved and sent off with an order form, and the eagerly awaited arrival of the tiny slip of a rose.  It was a petite rose, well behaved, with flowers like small pink pompoms.
It may have been the variety named 'The Fairy.'

 My world prior to the age of five didn't range far beyond the immediate 'dooryard' of the farmhouse;  I spent contented hours pottering near the apricot tree, with the hum of bees for company.
No one fussed over the little garden.
Grass grew thinly around the base of the apricot tree, the perennials seemed scarcely to spread.
Perhaps the shade of the huge sugar maple just below kept all in bounds.
The garden was cool and quiet on summer mornings; its position on the west side of the house made for golden autumn afternoons when the scarlet leaves of the nearby maple drifted down leaving the dark fretwork of branches etched across a blue sky.

My parents, my younger sister and I, shared the farmhouse with Grampa Mac, Great Grandmother Eliza and Uncle Bill, until our small house was built within hollering distance along the dirt road. We soon created a 'short cut' between the two dwellings, trotting along the road then skirting the prickly hedge of Cinnamon Roses which divided the farmhouse lawn from the area where my uncle's hens and geese had their coops.
Our footpath wound past an old sweet rose [probably Maiden's Blush] at the north corner of the house, along a rampage of common orange lilies and so to the 'back yard' and the door into the kitchen ell.

Years later, after living in several New England states, Jim and I built a modest log home on the two acres which had once served as night pasture for Grampa Mac's dairy cows.

I was by then a dedicated gardener. 
The vegetable garden was prepared first--a practicality--then I embarked on what became an 18 year adventure with heirloom roses, peonies, lilies, delphinium--every sort of cottage garden treasure which had a chance of surviving a zone 3 winter. 
Some of my plants were shared from the gardens of friends, some I coaxed along from seeds.
I shopped at garden centers and nurseries for miles around, ordered special treasures from the catalogs that piled into the mailbox while snow lay deep on the ground.

In the autumn of our 18th year in that place we knew that we would move in the spring to Wyoming.

We left as my garden was putting on its spring show.

My grand daughter posed in the garden for my sister's photo later in the summer.
It would take several seasons for me to realize the difficulties of gardening in Wyoming.
In the foothills of the Wind River Mountains, there are less than 3 full months of frost-free weather.
Drought and searing winds prevail.
Grasshoppers arrive in the brittle heat of July, in a plague of biblical proportions.
At our final Wyoming home I managed a sparse hedge of hardy shrub roses. The resident group of mule deer nibbled them down in June--which seemed to inspire a vigorous re-blooming 
just before the first snow!

Early spring at our first Kentucky property was a time of intense gardening.
The former owners had been plant lovers.
We 'inherited' two sprawling pink peonies, a variety of iris, hydrangeas along the west wall of the house, a hibiscus by the garage, a magnificent clump of Michaelmas daisies near the clothesline. 
The iris at some point had been divided and dotted about the dooryard--some poking up through the fading spikes of daffodils, a few competing with the honeysuckle that tangled around a lamp post.

 My grandson helped prepare an extended rock-edged 'bed' near the peonies and I painstakingly separated tangled iris rhizomes, tucked them into the new space, added more peonies.

I had coveted clematis for years, never quite dared to plant them in my zone 3 Vermont garden.
I was delighted to recognize two varieties growing against the brick wall of the carport.
Haskell Rogers [the previous owner] had frugally rigged a support of metal fence stakes and chicken wire. During our second season there I bought a new trellis for the white clematis--an heirloom variety called Candida.

My son-in-law contributed an elegant tower for Nellie Moser to climb.

Nellie Moser clambered over the rocks at the base of the trellis and climbed a nearby nandina bush.

Both plants set seedlings, a few of which I pried gently out and set into a large pot.

The potted seedlings moved with me to the Pellyton farm where they sulked in their planter until early autumn when I had time to set up a trellis and tuck them into the ground of a new garden.
I was pleased to see that the seedlings wintered and thrust up fresh tendrils to begin the climb up the trellis.  I didn't know if I had managed to move starts from both varieties.
Nellie Moser, the striped rose variety is readily available both at local nurseries and through mail order. Candida is harder to find.

Only one bud appeared--from the vine growing on the right hand side of the support.


It will likely be another season before a full flowering. 
I hope to find that I saved starts of both varieties.

I have been out daily with my camera, enjoying this blossom from plump bud, through a slow unfolding of green-tinged petals, to full blown beauty and then fading to a feathery seed head.
I could have searched out a tiny start of this increasingly rare old clematis, had it shipped in, nurtured and fussed over it.
There is a special value in having an offspring of the vine that Haskell Rogers and his wife tended at the place we called home for several years.

In memory I often revisit that first Vermont garden I knew as a child, a garden that had its beginnings more than a century ago.
I can imagine a young woman bringing a peony or an iris root from the home of her parents or grandparents. Perhaps as a young matron she visited a neighbor when lily of the valley was in bloom and was given a clump wrapped in damp newspaper to carry home.
Could the lemon lilies have come from the weedy dooryard of a long-abandoned homestead?

Wherever I have lived in a home previously owned by another family I have discovered a legacy of plants and flowering shrubs.
When I have left the homes which we built from the ground up I have left behind a gardener's labor of love, hoping it would be enjoyed and nurtured.

There are two houses on our Pellyton farm.
At each house there is an inheritance of roses chosen by the Amish women who lived here. I discovered Four o'Clocks growing beside the doorstep of the larger workshop.

Already I have the beginnings of a new garden; there are clove pinks moved from my Gradyville plantings; there are divisions of the bouffant pink peonies, a Therese Bugnet rose salvaged from a runner thrust out onto the lawn.
My daughter brought bundles of iris and tiger lilies from the wild edges of her property.
I moved Canterbury bells and a straggle of Stella d'Oro lilies from the property we refurbished in Cane Valley. I have coneflowers started last year in crowded plastic trays, fragrant lavender which first saw life on my pantry windowsill.
Plants have arrived, neatly packaged from mail order nurseries and I have come home well laden from the Mennonite garden centers in the next county.
Our renter has brought lilacs from his property in Michigan and set them out along a fence 
near the stable.
On cold winter afternoons I sit by the fire turning the pages of my garden books--books with photos of famous formal English gardens; books about raising and using herbs; books with plans for elegant borders or tiny cottage plots.
I linger over a cup of tea, a nursery catalog spread open on the table, a pen ready to boldly mark a coveted offering.
Oh, to have the funds--the space--the stamina--to indulge in all the plants that take my fancy!

I can't know how many years I have to garden in this place, nor have I fully learned what will flourish in our stony soil, or what plants will languish in a hot and  humid summer.
I can only trust that whatever I accomplish in my gardening endeavors I will be leaving yet another legacy for a future owner to enjoy and enlarge.


  1. What wonderful memories. Nothing can ever erase the pictures of the garden you grew up in (which is why I still grow Nasturtiums, just as my mum always did!) I tried growing an Apricot tree here but it got canker and perished (canker is a problem with the wet Welsh weather).

    I hope you can have many years of gardening in your new home, if on a lesser scale than previously. I have decided to grow very few veg this year as we are SO busy with Fairs etc.

    I love your Clematis that you managed to save from a start from the Haskell Rogers seedling. Not seen that one before. I have about 8 or 9 various clematis here including 3 Montana rubens to romp about the place.

    You area cottage garden gardener by the sound of things. Like you, I have always grown that sort of planting (if only to cover the weeds, in my case!!!)

    1. Jennie; I am envious of your clematis collection! I eyed several longingly at the greenhouse yesterday but restrained myself from bringing another home. Some of my peonies from Vermont made the move to Wyoming--where they sulked--but they were under 2 feet of snow when we moved to Kentucky. There is something special about having starts from a plant that has been enjoyed in another setting.

  2. **Oh, to have the funds--the space--the stamina--to indulge in all the plants that take my fancy!**

    I can so relate to that statement. :-) It sounds like your new place has lots of beauty to enjoy and I know you will. You will also enjoy adding your own bits to these already established gardens.

    Have a great week ~ Love & hugs ~ FlowerLady

    1. Rainey; As I admire the variety of plants and flowering vines you tend in your Florida garden, I wonder if you've needed to amend the sandy soil to have them flourish [?] Gardens are an inspiration--as long as we aren't overwhelmed by their needs!

  3. So interesting. We have lived in many places and it takes years to really learn the soil. We've been here 13 years and just now do we think we're getting a handle on things.
    What wonderful memories you have. Neither of my parents were gardeners and I was in my 30's before I found that I was.

    1. Janet; Soil quality seems to differ greatly from one end of our small county to the other. I can see that I'm going to be 'picking rocks' for a good while here. My mom was definitely not a gardener. My dad liked flowering shrubs and the rock garden he tended at the church.

  4. Lovely descriptive piece, you are an obsessive lover of plants, and of course their history. Plants have such a lineage to, my favourite book is a 19th century book called the English Flower Garden by William Robinson. A time when the botanists where chasing round the world to bring back exotique plants, shrubs and trees.

    1. Thelma; I'm pondering whether my love of gardening is in the 'obsessive' category--it is surely far more than a casual interest. I enjoy the folklore that goes with growing herbs, the history of old roses--can't imagine life without flowers.

  5. You have such a beautiful legacy, but the real legacy is your ability to put your thoughts in words and pictures for others to share. I loved that the seedlings "sulked in their planter". Looking forward to more posts as we move from spring to summer. I'm having trouble publishing this. If it comes in under "anonymous", it's Lillian at Lillian's Cupboard. If it comes in "Shannon Bodenstein", that's my daughter who keeps showing up here for some reason.

    1. Lillian; This came in properly under your usual blog name. PC's can be ever so frustrating!
      We can't guess what another generation will wish to know or keep. I wish I had the many letters which my mother and her cousins wrote back and forth for years--at some point she cleared out her desk and threw out the letters. Don't we always wish we had thought to ask questions before it was too late!

  6. Such wonderful childhood memories. When ever I'm in the garden I am in the company of my mother and grandmother. Many of my plants are from the gardens of friends and one of the peonies is an 'off tuber' of a peony from my great grandfather's garden. On a clematis note, I've just discovered that my sweet Betty Corning has been 'strimmed' to barely two inches above the ground. Shame on me for neglecting to flag it with surveyors tape. Fingers crossed that there will be a revivification!!

  7. Mundi; You are a gardener after my own heart! I've found that plants from the garden of a friend or relative nearly always thrive--they know they are cherished.
    Re your 'strimmed' clematis: my late mother-in-law warned me that a man on the loose with any kind of 'machine' or mower was a danger to the garden! I often run out when I hear Jim start his powerful 'weed whacker'--ready to fling myself in front of some small plant which he won't recognize as precious. I think that with a bit of protection your Betty Corning will revive.
    You may have noted in my photos that put a barrier of bricks and stones around my clematis when planted--I've read they like that for keeping roots cool and moist, but it is also meant to notify the enthusiastic 'strimmer' that these are NOT wild morning glory climbing the fence!

  8. Beautifully written, these memories of your childhood in a cherished garden. Or are they cherished memories of your childhood garden?? Whichever, I found them warm and enjoyable...

    1. Hildred; Both ways you have phrased the memories are valid. I am always amazed at how easily photos and the task of composing my memories into written word can transport me to another place and time.

  9. Such beautiful pictures and memories. So you've been looking back too? It must be the changing of the seasons affecting us maybe. Thank you for your wise words on my blog.x

    1. Yarrow; I've come to realize that pictures--the 'real' kind and those lodged in memory are very, very powerful. One must be braced for nostalgic delight and the chance of stirring up an old grief--and then moving on!

  10. Living in Sydney where the apartment tower is spreading and old fashioned suburbs are disappearing, I feel blessed to have a large garden. It is my sanctuary and although I know that one day the developers will eventually take over our corner of paradise (though I hope that won't be for many years yet), I still continue to nurture it.


  11. debs; Riding through town I sometimes marvel at the tidy gardens there on small lots. I wonder if I would manage better if I had to condense my planting into a smaller area. I've always had room to spread out! Do you use the term 'garden' in the English sense--meaning the whole yard/lawn area--or as a special place 'planted up?'