“Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier.” - Mother Teresa
Every artist has her or his muse, a person who inspires, motivates, and encourages creativity. Leonardo had Lisa , Quentin has Uma, Mother Teresa had God, and I credit my mother, Alice, with being my gardening artiste. From the time that I could toddle, I was following her around our expansive gardens planted for both the edibles and the pretties. When she and my dad first moved to their house built at the turn of the 20th century on the 365 acre ranch in the middle of nowhere, it was surrounded by brambles, blackberry bushes, and poison oak. Little by little she painstakingly transformed the prickly jungle into a playful park planted with a myriad of beautiful flowers, herbs, trees, grasses, fruits, and vegetables.
I can still smell the sweet fragrance of the spring soil as we tilled the plots designated as the vegetable garden. Mom would plant starts of tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, zucchini, bush beans, string beans, eggplant, and whatever other vegetable caught her fancy for the year. The five kids would be given seeds of radishes, beets, corn, carrots, turnips, squash, and melons to plant as we wished. Onions, leeks, garlic, and Swiss Chard seemed to be in abundance year round as did a big patch of culinary herbs-basil, mustard, chives, dill, fennel, parsley, oregano, marjoram, mints, rosemary, sage, tarragon, and thyme. We didn’t have automatic irrigation. All of us were responsible for daily watering, pulling hoses for long distances as Mom always did. She showed us how to plant rows, squares, circles, how to soak each plant plentifully, what to weed, and what not to touch.
We couldn’t wait until summer when the first tomato ripened. With a handful of basil, we’d bite into the juicy goodness right there in the garden. One August she grew a five-pound tomato, won a big prize, and carried it around to multiple events exhibiting its enormity to anyone interested until it rotted. Long before the trend of farm to table, my Mom cooked what was freshest and harvested that day. We only ate what was in season or, in the winter months, what we canned during the summer. To this day, I won’t eat tomatoes, grapes, or oranges out of season. Why bother? They taste like chalk. Only vine ripened fruit and vegetables have the flavor that transport me to the joys of childhood on the farm. And what blissful days they were!
But it wasn’t only the vegetable and herb gardening techniques that she was imparting. Mom also instilled in us a wistful, playful attitude in the art of gardening. “Gardens are an extension of your personality,” she used to tell me. And her gardens were wild, fun, surprising, eccletic, and inviting. Tucked into ravines would be antique stoves with antiquated rusting teapots overflowing with succulents. When we outgrew our swing set, it was turned into a hanging pot canopy accessed by a wooden bridge over a dry creek flanked by palm trees. Gazing balls, clay piglets, and hummingbird feeders dotted the landscape. Her favorite garden ornaments, a bargain purchase bought for her by my brother decades ago, have always been Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. She decorates the garden for all of the holidays with Christmas being the grand finale-an extravaganza of sound and light rivaling Disneyland.
As an adult, our main conversations revolve around plants. We stroll together through our mutual playgrounds admiring and consulting. I am grateful for the horticultural acumen that she liberally passed along to us. Although there wasn’t a kindergarten where I grew up, I learned everything I needed to know about life in my Mother’s Garden.
What I learned from my Mother Muse:
Everyone who has ever experienced the gardening hospitality of my Mother, Alice, has left feeling better and happier. Let the wisdom of my generous garden guide Muse inspire you to be the best gardener possible. Thanks Mom!
Happy Gardening. Happy Growing.
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