Last week while dead-heading my roses (David Austen Heritage – very delicate pink old fashioned type of rose), I kept thinking how much roses reminded me of my mother. My mother was not an avid gardener. She left all that dirty and hard stuff to my father, her brothers and me. She loved her rose bushes that grew so well in the front garden surrounded by gerberas and pansies which she adored also. When I was about five, someone convinced my mother to enter one of her red rose blooms in the local Agricultural Show and with many protests she more or less threw a hastily picked rose on the table of the judging panel and filled out the entry form. That rose won first prize. For the following years till her early death, her deep red roses (no particular name that we knew of) won first prize. The rose garden was cherished and loved forever by our family, and red roses always bring memories of my mother to mind instantly.
The favourite flower of my Gran’s was the violet….she grew them under the big water tanks where it was cool, shady and nearly always moist even during the hottest summers of Queensland. Well fertilised and weeded by the hens as they picked and scratched their way around the clumps of violets, they were very hardy in spite of the delicate and sweetly perfumed flower. Gran’s old dog (called an Alsatian back then, being German Shepherd) Towser, loved to sprawl on top of them on hot afternoons in an effort to keep cool. He was actually bitten by a black snake under there during one of his siestas – the snake had the same idea in mind and didn’t like his space being intruded upon. Towser didn’t die from the bite though. Gran cut and bled the bite and poured lysol on the wound – he was sick for a few days, but the only after affect was a huge lump that formed on the top of his paw where the bite had been.
Not only pretty flowers can bring back memories of people from our past though. Vegetables are just as powerful when it comes to producing a quick snap shot of someone long gone into the mind. My ex-husband was lucky enough to have a lovely step-father Jim who hailed from Glasgow in Scotland. Jim and my ex’s mother sailed out to Australia on the same ship as 10 pound poms, and met while exercising on the decks. Jim was headed to Sydney with his family and Beatrice was headed to Perth with her two sons. She had distant family in West Australia and thought it would be full of villages just as it had been in England. After a few years apart, Jim moved to Perth where he worked in Fremantle Prison as a guard, until he was offered a very good position in the South Island of New Zealand. They left together leaving her two teenage sons in Perth with relatives and friends. Jim promptly fell in love with Southland. the cold weather and good soils, and they bought a few acres out of town where he could experiment with a garden. His first attempt to grow anything was spuds and peas. The feel of dirt on his hands was exquisite he told me once, and the joy of digging up the spuds in time for Christmas dinner along with picking fresh young peas was euphoria. Jim said he had grown up where there was mostly concrete in Glasgow so the luxury of having a few acres of good gritty, dirty dirt to plunge his big hands in was like Christmas Day every day. Jim died about 15 years ago, but I quietly thank him for teaching me how to plant and care for my spud crops, and if there is ever a year I don’t have the chance to grow them, I feel as if I have missed out on something very dear.
If anyone who knows me and my garden think to choose a plant or flower to remember me by, I would think they would have to think of the daisy. I adore them and have many of them in my garden. I grow them as hedges defining garden beds, I trim them into round balls as a feature of other beds, and I fill in those awkward gaps in the garden where nothing seems to want to survive, with a daisy bush. Mixed with my roses and other bits and bobs from the garden, they look stunning in a vase in my kitchen.
Lastly but certainly not least, my other flower memory is of my mother’s best friend who was from England and rather a rare specimen when I was little. We didn’t have too many English folks in our town due to the heat of the area and back then the remoteness of it also. My Gran was English but she had lived on the family cattle and dairy property since she was a young bride and was always an Aussie to us. Mum’s lovely friend who always wore pastel suits and gloves and who I always thought looked like the Queen, grew the finest gladioli anyone in our region had seen. She and her husband lived on a half acre block with a high set Queenslander in the middle of it. Every spare inch of the yard was taken up by gardens…vegetable in the back half tended lovingly by the man of the house, and gladioli, roses, gerberas, asters, sweet peas, and one winter this fine lady successfully grew daffodils and tulips. Unheard of by the locals as the climate was far too hot for these types of bulbs. Her name was always Mrs Asling to me, but my mother called her ‘Glad’ because of her gladioli. Mum had a huge urn type vase in the lounge which she would fill with the blooms from Glad’s garden. Mrs Asling died when I was away doing my nurses’ training, but I was told by the family that her coffin was covered with her ‘gladdies’ of every colour. Whenever I see Dame Edna throwing gladioli blooms into the audience, I think of the lovely lady of my childhood.
My father taught me most of what I know about gardening, both vegetable and flower gardens. He had a wonderfully green thumb and could get anything to grow from seed or cuttings. In his later years he grew and cross-bred the most amazing orchids and won accolades in North Queensland for his blooms on show. By far Dad’s favourite flower was the Banksia. He died under a Banksia on a very hot day in Perth and I like to think he chose this spot because of the flowers in bloom at the time.