Whenever I'm out in my garden, I'm never alone. Running through my mind are the memories of friends and loved ones who, like exotic flowers that bloom and wither in such a short time, enriched and perfumed my life. As I pick at the weeds in a flower bed, the memory of my patient mother happily weeding away for hours comes to mind and I renew my efforts. I think about my sister who was stolen away in her prime by cancer. When I first heard the sad news, I began work on a vast flower garden in desperation to do something tangible for my sister and named it after her-Frannie's Garden. She never got a chance to walk in it, but as I do, I'm reminded of her soft, sweet personality with each flower commemorating her gentle spirit.
They say death is waiting just over your left shoulder. If we lived with that in mind, we'd surely be better people on a day-to-day basis. Life and death in a garden are part of a natural cycle, too. Gardeners deal with it all the time. So what better place to remember those who've passed but in a garden? As I set up the sturdy tomato cages, built of cement reinforcing wire by my master gardener, Dick, I wander back in time to watching him grow new varieties of tomatoes and peppers each year. When he passed on, I was given his garden tools. Every time I grab one of those worn handles, it make me smile knowing Dick also held it.
As I lay out my veggie rows, my dear old dad comes to mind. He showed me how to make straight rows as a little girl using a string held between two wooden stakes. Like Dick, my dad loved tomatoes. When he could no longer eat them because of a stomach problem, he said, "What's the use of living if you can't eat tomatoes!" He'd be happy to know that my brothers and I agree with his sentiment 100 percent.
Lifting a worm away from my shovel, I remember Charlie, a man who was like a grandfather to me, who venerated nature and honored even those humble workhorses of the soil-the worms. Charlie taught classes in vermiculture (worm composting) to school kids. He used to basin garden, a technique he learned while living in the Southwest of planting veggies in a sunken bed. Water is then only applied to the bed and not wasted on the raised walkways. I learned a lot from that perennial prankster, but mostly I learned not to take myself too seriously.
Last week I said goodbye to yet another friend and master gardener. A mountain of a man, Bob took on the formidable task of terracing his whole backyard, a hillside that overlooked Crane Creek Golf Course. Bob was a big thinker and doer in the community. When he was in his seventies, despite two hip replacements, he was still gardening and teaching others about the power of plants through horticultural therapy, using plants and plant activities to help patients heal.
Another friend also knew the power of plants and how flowers soothed the soul. Larry volunteered his time landscaping the Ronald McDonald House and then went on to raise enough donations to replace the windows and the siding on the RM House. Larry's special love was roses, and as I prune on a rose in Frannie's Garden, I think about that generous, caring man. He, like Eldon, another master mardener, left their kindness behind in the form of gardens for others to enjoy. Eldon established and maintained the Hummingbird/Butterfly Garden at the MK Nature Center.
More than anyone, gardeners realize to everything there is a season. Just like plants, we only grace this earth for a certain amount of time and then-poof!-we're gone. We all have some wonderful memories of special people who made a difference in our lives, and who we enjoy remembering. Why not take the time this year to plant a flower, shrub or tree in honor of someone who's gone? Or maybe place a bench or bird bath in your garden to idle by now and then thinking back on the good times shared.
The community of Hidden Springs has done just that. They started a Memorial Garden to honor the memory of community members and their families. This Memorial Garden is located on the northeast corner of the Village Green near the Mercantile at the entrance to Hidden Springs. The garden was first established in 2003 to commemorate Alan, a much loved neighbor of community.
Phase One of the garden features a shaded bench bordered with trees, shrubs, bulbs and roses. Alan was a rose lover. Phase Two contains raised beds of roses and a sundial to honor Betty, a lover of nature. Phase Three begins this year and will host a wildlife sanctuary for songbirds and butterflies. Residents of the Hidden Springs community can purchase a rose to be planted in the Memorial Garden, including a permanent plaque to honor a loved one. If a memorial garden isn't in the cards for your subdivision, try using your own backyard. Rememberance via gardening will surely help us to live more useful, caring lives.
Suzann Bell is a horticulturist with the University of Idaho Extension Service in Ada County. Send gardening questions to Suzann c/o Boise Weekly or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.