In the sliding glass doors of the kitchen, I catch glimpses of an old woman hobbling around in my garden, and I realize in amazement that it’s me.
I definitely believe my love of gardening was infused in me by my mother decades ago. She started me gardening as a child growing pumpkins in California. In my 20’s she encouraged me to plant flower beds and revive a weak rose at the tiny house I rented. From then on I never stopped gardening. For years we lived, loved and laughed in each other’s gardens, municipal gardens, garden tours and nursery excursions. We shared the love of gardens and shared our love for each other in gardens. As her garden became too difficult for her to manage, I stepped in to help. Eventually we moved most of her garden to pots on her patio, so she could sit in a chair and tend them at a more manageable level. Her beloved rose bushes and a few perennials in a raised bed stayed where they were, still within her reach. I tended the rest.
A lovely, sunny, warm Saturday in July, my mom spent her day in her garden, doing what she loved, tending her pots. The next day she laid down for a nap, never again to regain consciousness. 24 hours later she was in the presence of her Lord Jesus, new, whole and joyful. Such sweet sorrow these days.
In the 3 days before her death, I kept seeing swallowtail butterflies. Always and only swallowtails, one each day. The day before her death, at the time she fell ill in her home, I was unaware what was happening. My husband and I were on a walk and a swallowtail came right up to us and swooped so close to my face that I jerked back so it wouldn’t hit me. On some level I felt there may be some significance to all these butterflies but didn’t understand what. Brushing such weird thoughts aside I decided it was simply a hatch brought on by the sudden burst of warm weather. I just enjoyed them. Every day for 5 days following her last breath I saw a swallowtail flit through her garden or mine. One day I saw two, one in each of our gardens as I had opportunity to be in both that day. Each time I strongly felt her presence and could smile. One landed briefly on her red rose bush, then proceeded away. The day we buried her, as the graveside service concluded, a swallowtail flew in the midst of us, swooped down and up over the casket and disappeared around the side of the grave stone. I smiled as I felt her presence, understanding now how you can feel sorrow and joy at the same time.
We gardened very differently. Her's was more of a formal style with swept grounds and 4 feet between each of her 25 rose bushes “for air circulation which helps prevent disease” she said. Mine is more closely packed with perennials crowding out weeds. Sage and ajuga grow closely beneath my roses…overall a billowy English style with a perpetual layer of leaf mulch covering the soil. “Messy…I like it but can’t seem to do it, I need more neatness” she would say. Some plants she’d describe as ‘leggy’ if she thought they should be fuller. “They are airy” I’d say. "Airy" she'd mimic and we’d laugh. Right now I can’t hear her laugh in my mind. I hope one day it will come back to me.
And as all gardeners do, we shared plants. She loved the pink old fashioned coral bells (huchera) and she kept a pot of the red flowering ones which were her mother’s favorite. I have cuttings of both in my garden. She had this Mullen chaixii ‘Album’ pictured below in a large pot for years. It began to languish and she was ready for me to remove it to the compost. I always loved it and was unsuccessful with its seeds for my own garden so I took it home, planted it in the ground where it thrives and has doubled in size, rewarding the bumblebees with its nectar and pollen.
One day she enjoyed standing next to my blueberry bushes and eating them right off the bush as we talked. So much so that she bought a dwarf blueberry for a pot on her patio. This year her bush is loaded with blueberries though she’ll miss the ripening. I bet the blueberries in heaven are far better.
My Alpine strawberries came from her plants too. Having plants and cuttings from her garden in my own has taken on a new meaning for me. Her potted garden has acquired a few treasures from my garden over the years. Her pots of Geranium ‘Lily Lovell’ and Lily of the Valley came from my holdings, and some of my hardy geraniums are blooming along the front walk to their home.
I feared that joy would leave my garden for a time after her death, but it has not. I find it a peaceful, restful place still, one in which I can smile as I think of her. I don’t think my gardening will ever be the same. I think forevermore I’ll feel mom’s presence in the garden whether I’m working in mine or hers as I maintain it for as long as my dad remains in their home. And I hope every summer the swallowtail butterflies will always come bringing me peace and some of her presence as God sends them my way. He does things of love like that you know.
In bloom in my garden today: Alpine Strawberries, Armeria, Astlbe, Begonia ‘bonfire’, Bletilla pink, Borage, Clematis alpina ‘frankie’, Daphne, Digitalis, Geranium, Green Beans, Hardy Geranium, Hosta, Huchera, Kniphofia, Lavender, Lily, Lobelia, Mullen chaixii ‘Album’, Nepeta, Peas, Phygelius, Purple poppies, Primrose vailii, Rose, Salvia, Sedum, Star Jasmine, Thyme, Tomato, Veronica, Zucchini,