Bold and beautiful, soft and pastel – everywhere I turned there were terraces of color.
By all accounts, I should have green blood flowing through my veins, or at least, a green stain on my thumb. Mom’s family had been farmers; flowers were incidental, but vegetables were plentiful. Dad’s family also filled the kitchen with homegrown produce as many people did back in their day. Everyone worked in the garden and had food to put on the table. This talent had to be in my genes, right?
After my mother got married, circumstances allowed her only a tomato cage or two and a rose bush (that sometimes got left behind) as she and dad moved from place to place. She told me she had missed digging in the dirt, making things grow. When my parents retired, mom spent her days planting assorted flowers to keep her ever-present rose bushes company.
When I left home and got married, my husband and I decided to return to our family’s roots. We cleared our new piece of property, tilled a large plot on the not-so-large acre, and planted a garden with cucumbers, beans, carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, peas, and plenty of salad fixings. It was far too much for the two of us – our aspirations had been bigger than our stomachs. Fortunately, it helped us make friends with our new neighbors as we plied them with the fresh produce.
I think at this point, I should qualify my statements. It was actually my husband who had cleared, tilled, and planted our endeavor. I made holes in the dirt with a stick for the seedlings. And later, I picked a few weeds before declaring it too hot to rid the oversized garden of the million “garden leeches” (weeds) that were growing bigger by the day.
I did, however, pack the veggies in cute little baskets that I passed around the neighborhood with cards that said: “From the garden of Terry and Rose Ann.” Guilt made me put his name first, and with that guilt came the realization that I was not a gardener. Those beautiful red tomatoes, firm green beans, and crisp salad fixings would have died on their vines had it been left to me.
That was the last large vegetable garden we (he) ever planted. I turned my interest to flowers. Creative, colorful, romantic – surely, I could create a paradise of blossoms so magnificent my mother would have been jealous. I bought seeds and seedlings, rich topsoil, fertilizer, and name stakes. I refused an offer of help and sowed the seeds myself. I was excited when bits of green pushed through the brown dirt. I watered. I raked. I fertilized. The flowers struggled. My husband offered his opinion: “Maybe those flowers need full sun. Did you read the instructions on the packet?”
“Of course I did,” I snapped.
I had not.
I went to the store, bought two hydrangea plants (suggested by the garden department expert), planted them in the newly raked dirt, and called it a season.
My two rose bushes, still in large clay pots, miraculously flourished. I did not take credit for their lives. My mother had surely cast her magic over her favorite flowers.
When my husband and I retired to North Carolina, I heard about the beauty of Brookgreen Gardens in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina. It took us about four years to finally make the trip (just an hour’s drive from our house) to the much-acclaimed botanical gardens.
Supposedly, the place was so big it couldn’t be completely enjoyed in one day. In agreement, the tickets purchased at the gate were for a two-day entrance. I didn’t believe we couldn’t cover the premises in an afternoon armed (footed?) with our new energized Nike sneakers.
We started down the winding paths that circled the beds of blooms that I couldn’t name. Bold and beautiful, soft and pastel – everywhere I turned there were terraces of color. Amazing sculptures belied the presumed fragility at their feet.
A short trail brought us to the rice plantation riverboat tour that packed a history lesson into a respite for our over-walked feet. Brookgreen Gardens was so much more than pretty flowers – it was nature, history, and artistic expression.
By the end of the day, we’d barely seen half of the property. It wasn’t a place to rush through, but one to stop and savor the past, as well as the present.
We never used the second-day ticket. It’s tucked away in a box of favorite memories. That day had been one of appreciation and realization. I didn’t have “green” DNA or a speck of green on my thumb – nor did I need it. I had a new respect and admiration for nature’s true artists.
These days, I buy my produce at the local roadside farm stands. I understand the work it took to bring the food to my table, and I am grateful. I am also content to see a few lovely blooms on my rose bush, and I hope for enough (caged) cherry tomatoes, lovingly tended by me, to top off my salad.