My mother always seems to have a lot more things blooming in her garden at any given moment than I do. Recently I spent an afternoon gardening with her in northwestern Connecticut, just about 30 miles north of where I live, so that I could observe firsthand what her secret is.
When I got there she had her shovel deep in her compost bin. Then she dropped the compost on a screen positioned over her wheelbarrow and began rubbing it through the screen. The result was the most perfect soil I have ever seen.
When I got home I immediately built my own screen (not as well engineered as the one my father built for my mother, but serviceable anyway). It’s a laborious process, sifting soil through the screen, but it's well worth it for the fine texture it provides to young plants and seeds.
My mother is a vigorous lifelong gardener with many varied and naturalistic gardens on her property and a small pond that provides a focal point behind the house. She also has a vegetable patch, which produces broccoli, brussel sprouts, lettuce, tomatoes and beans. She finds that the rule in her garden is "one for me and one for the rabbits." Sometimes it’s two for the rabbits to her one.
When ambling with me through her gardens she points out the lavender that came from a friend, or the iris she transplanted from their former home in Weston, Conn. There’s one small plant I divided last season and gave to her, a chocolaty heuchera called 'Caramel'. In my garden half of the plants are from my mother’s garden, divided over the years and dropped in a pot or wrapped in wet newspaper for transporting home.
It’s part of the fun and the ritual of gardening—the sharing and recalling where our plants came from. My mother’s sister in Minnesota has poppies that came from my great uncle’s garden in Emmetsburg, Iowa. He died at the age of 97, over 30 years ago, but his poppies still live. When we look at the poppies we think of Uncle Harold. I have asked her to collect seeds for me so I can try propagating them in my greenhouse next spring.
I remember many years ago my grandmother showed me a somewhat tattered photo she had of her perennial garden, established along a high riverbank back in Iowa, where my mother and her sister and brother grew up. Although the picture was in black and white, I could tell my grandmother saw all the colors in her garden when she looked at it. She loved looking at that picture.
Gardening is about the past, the present and the future—and the connections we make between them. A love of gardening is a wonderful gift to pass on to others. Thank you, Mom, and Happy Mother’s Day!
Below are pictures I took last summer of my mother’s garden in northwestern Connecticut.
Dorian Winslow is the president of Womanswork, and is passionate about making the best products on the market for women who garden and work outdoors.
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