From when I was quite little all the way to today people have asked me, `How do you know the names of so many flowers?’ It actually never occurred to me that I did; I thought everyone knew the names of flowers. Apparently not. The answer to that question is I just followed my Dad … like a puppy.
Growing up, we had a smallish, but perfectly sized, house on a not very big lot of 50′ x 100′. I have a photo of our house shortly before we moved there; it was the second house in from the next bigger road and the rest of the houses on the block had not yet been built. I suppose it might have been called a development, but it looked nothing like the ones of today, all cookie-cutter and same-ish. Each home looked quite different in both style and building material, some clapboard, some all brick, some a mix of both and so on, but always on the same size lots. What made our house so special was that there was always something growing, and it was my Dad who orchestrated it all.
To this day, I can see the rhododendron and the red, pink and white azalea in the front of the house interspersed with some evergreen shrubs; the daffodils and narcissus circling our beautiful big elm (home for a nest of those rapscallion squirrels); and the spot to the right of our front door with another rhododendron and a yearly change of annuals, purple and white alyssum come to memory. Next to the garage grew a length of lily-of-the-valley with a flagstone walk alongside, and on the other side of the house, an andromeda, a dogwood with creamy white flowers, and myrtle.
The climbing roses, taken with my humble little Brownie camera.
But it was the backyard where my Dad really went to town. Behind the dining room were his roses; additional myrtle created a dark green backdrop behind. I can’t remember all their names, (perhaps he had a Peace Rose?) but I do remember the Japanese beetles. They were beautiful, too, I thought, and I wished they and the roses had a better relationship. At the end of the rose bed was a lilac tree. On the back of the garage was a trellis where he had smaller climbing roses of a cerise color. At the base of the roses, he grew strawberries, but I also remember pansies.
In the back right corner, there were peonies fluffed out like ballerina tutus. I always wondered why the ants liked to crawl on their buds so much; I’m sure he told me and I don’t remember. There were two large bleeding hearts, and a mix of other flowers I can’t recall, and portulaca in front. Oh, I remember the portulaca! They were loaded with honeybees, and I was always sure they had me in mind for their next pollen visit. Or worse.
And in the other corner, a forsythia and a pink weigela, a mass of brightly colored tulips and zinnias for cutting (we always had cut flowers in the house all summer), and then my Daddy’s delicious tomatoes. We enjoyed them with many a dinner. Later he added a flowering plum in the yard with those lovely burgundy leaves and delicate pink blossoms.
Thinking back, how did my Dad do all this? When did he do it? (Oh – and he had gorgeous gardenias inside!) I can remember following him around when I was small and “helping.” I have no idea what all I was actually doing, I just know I was next to him, watching and listening while he trimmed and pruned, staked and watered. For the size of our little lot, it was quite an impressive display. My Dad was always happy when he was gardening (except for the squirrels and Japanese beetles.) He truly had a green thumb … something I, unfortunately, did not inherit. I could plan a color layout like nobody’s business, but didn’t always have the right mix of what needed sun and shade, more or less water, trimming back or deadheading. Having all that come so naturally as it did to my Dad is a gift and I’m just thankful I got to follow him around.
And thanks to Cynthia Reyes and her memoir “An Honest House” for inspiring the warm reflections on my childhood and my earliest appreciation of all things growing and green.