Yesterday I found myself missing my mother. I was mucking about one of the many Houston Garden Center locations, loading my shopping cart up with clearance sale outdoor plants to plug holes in my flowerbeds. Despite being the granddaughter and daughter of gifted gardeners, I have the knack of being able to kill almost any plant known to man. This is not a boast. At one time my yard looked like something from a Southern Gothic novel by James Faulkner, and definitely not one of the happier tomes. It had a survive or die kind of theme going.
My mother and her father could grow anything. Give them a clipping, and they’d have a monster plant in six months. My mother once got a tiny potted Norfolk Island Pine as a hospital gift, and it ended up over six feet tall before my grandfather “accidentally” left it out in a winter freeze.
When she bought her last house, she transformed the yard from rock hard north Louisiana clay covered with St. Augustine Grass, and little else, to a lush landscape with rich, rich loam soil. I gave some of Mom’s flower bulbs to a friend’s mom, and she took one look at the black earth stuck to the bulbs and sighed with envy. 40 plus years of composting and lovingly tending her garden had accomplished that.
Somehow I ended up with my grandfather’s gardening books, which were outdated but really cool, a gift from Mother. She knew I needed all the help I could use. When my husband and I bought a house in Knoxville, we also gained a beautiful garden of native plants, Daffodils, and plants that could never thrive in north Louisiana. Mother sent cuttings to me, and I sent them to her. Still managed to kill the ones she sent me, but then she probably knew that would happen.
Over ten years after she died, I unlearned the urge to call her on the phone, hid photographs, and almost anything that brought back the searing pain of losing her to Stage IV lung cancer. Strangely the plants of hers that I dragged down to our home in Houston managed to thrive. She would’ve killed me if she’d seen how my grandfather’s Night Blooming Cereus put on a show. Cacti grew to be huge. Very strange for me, the plant killer of renown.
As I stood there in that garden center, staring at unmarked pots of plants, I knew my mother would’ve known their common names, how they grew, what kind of soil and sun they needed, and how long it would take for them to take over the Greater Houston Area. It was a very sharp and bittersweet moment She used to tell me how much it pained her to outlive her beloved parents, sister, cousins, and friends, and it puzzled and alarmed me. She said no one remained who’d known her as a baby, a little girl, and it was depressing to her. Now I understand. As I stood there looking at that unmarked pot of ivy it all made sense.