Mother’s Day Salute to my Mom

Throughout my childhood, my mother always spent a lot of time and energy tending and shaping the land around the house, following her own instincts of landscaping and working almost entirely with hand tools.

The little house; I am standing where the big thicket was

The little house; I am standing where the big thicket was

She started just outside the sliding glass doors in the living room, where she planted a small lawn, beyond which was an expansive swamp dogwood thicket, laced with black raspberries and bordered by a young maple forest on one side, and a few barely visible pine trees on the other.  Armed only with loppers, my mother began cutting down the thicket stalk by stalk, a project that took a couple of years of slow, patient labor.

Once the thicket was gone, and grass had been seeded in its place, my mom turned her attention to the huge limestone ledge that ran down alongside the house, part of it visible as mossy, grassy outcroppings, but most of it underground.  She set to work with her shovel, hand rake and trowel, her intention to create a rock garden out of that long, sloping rock ledge.  That project provided a focus for the long summers she spent with me and my brother in the country while my father went back to the city to work during the weeks.

The rock garden runs up the whole length of the lawn beside the house.  It's hard to see the rocks here, as they've been covered with plants, which my mom regularly scrapes off to reveal the contours of the rock again.   This big rock garden took years to accomplish.

The rock garden runs up the whole length of the lawn beside the house. It’s hard to see the rocks here, as they’ve been covered with plants, which my mom regularly scrapes off to reveal the contours of the rock again. This big rock garden took years to accomplish.

I can see her standing, sweaty and red-faced at the end of a hot morning’s work, with a fine layer of black earth coating her bare shoulders, drinking iced tea out of a tall green glass and surveying the ledge with a squinted sculptor’s eye.  She would be quietly exultant as her shovel and trowel gradually revealed new curves or deep, smooth walls of rock, a small, determined woman with a strong back and great patience, tracing out the rock with hand tools and as much love as if she were carving out the sweet, benevolent face and voluptuous body of the Earth Mother herself.

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She also dug out a vegetable garden, in which she planted her morning coffee grounds and eggshells, which yielded crunchy sugar snap peas and big shiny zucchinis and a tangle of tomato plants loaded down with plum, cherry and huge oxheart tomatoes.  In time, every contour of the ten acres or so around the houses on the property had felt the gentle touch of her hands, and yielded to the influence of her spades and trowels.  Every young maple or oak grew there because she had judiciously allowed it to advance past sapling-hood.

This was my favorite climbing tree in childhood; a sugar maple named Cricket

This was my favorite climbing tree in childhood; a sugar maple named Cricket

What had once been a rocky, harum-scarum cow pasture became, over the course of many years, an orderly oasis of verdant green lawns, perennial flower beds and raised vegetable gardens, with the long ridge of the rock garden sloping down through the middle of it all to the elegantly landscaped pool.  Now, more than forty years later, she’s still out there with her shovel, trowel and hand tools, tending and stroking her gardens into ever more radiant beauty.

The view from the "new" house (c. 1989), down towards the pool

The view from the “new” house (c. 1989), down towards the pool

This Mother’s Day, I salute my mother, whose outstanding gardening talents I have admired and learned from all my life.  I can only hope that in some small way her greenest of thumbs has rubbed off on me.

Jenny and Sue 1

Did I mention that my mom is an outstanding potter?

Did I mention that my mom is an outstanding potter?

She is as talented at architectural design as she is at landscape design

She is as talented at architectural design as she is at landscape design

 

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Innumerable shrubs, trees and fruit trees have been planted over the years, most often by my mom and her trusty spade.

 

Making plans for the next project with grandson Eric.  The work of a gardener is never done....

Making plans for the next project with grandson Eric. The work of a gardener is never done….

 

This is one of the most recent gardens, just outside the pottery studio, next to the oldest tree on the property, a venerable sugar maple

This is one of the most recent gardens, just outside the pottery studio, next to the oldest tree on the property, a venerable sugar maple

 

 

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14 Comments

  1. Respect.

    Reply
  2. How fitting that I came inside from digging a bed for my tomato plants to read this. I’m sure you know it, but your mom’s love of gardening inspired me, too–as did my own mother’s connection with the earth. I’d also like to pay tribute to your mother’s interest in food and cooking, another inspiration I have carried with me through life. I hope you both have the happiest of garden-filled days tomorrow, and wish I could be there to give you both hugs.

    Reply
  3. Susie Crofut

     /  May 11, 2013

    I just looked up from reading and saw the most beautiful light in the sky following the welcome rain showers of this day. I went into the garden lit by the afterglow of the setting sun and looked over my flower bed to the greenest of green fields, filled with daffodils and sloping down to the swamp below. Thirty five years of loving thought and care have shaped this landscape and my inspiration and model has been my mother. I remember her on this Mother’s day, as you do you your mother, with special love.

    Reply
  4. Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

     /  May 11, 2013

    Yes, my mom does have many talents I could write about, and probably will, but as the gardens are looking so beautiful now, especially after today’s welcome rain, it was to her green thumb I turned this time. Your comments, Audrey and Susie, make me think that we could put together a beautiful illustrated book of mother & daughter gardens…couldn’t we now?

    Reply
    • Indeed. Seeing the picture of the lawn outside the little house made me remember the time we (or I? who was the instigator?) sprinkled sunflower seeds everywhere in the grass!

      Reply
      • Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

         /  May 13, 2013

        Ah yes, I remember that! It was probably the same year that we had the bright idea of spreading cattail seeds in your parents’ pond!

  5. Inspires me to get out into my yard and garden. Thank you for such a loving tribute.

    Reply
  6. Imogen da Silva

     /  May 12, 2013

    I salute your Mum too, Happy Mother’s Day to you and her x

    Reply
  7. Lorimer Burns

     /  May 12, 2013

    I love your mom and I love you!!!

    Reply
    • Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

       /  May 12, 2013

      Awww Lorimer….Happy Mother’s Day!!!

      Reply
  8. Diana Felber

     /  May 13, 2013

    Such magnificence! I feel the strength of our similar passions and look forward to more connectedness. Can’t wait to get there again.

    Your tribute is so lovely, Jennifer.
    Kudos to your wonderful mother. Diana Felber

    Reply
  9. Your mother is one of my new heroes! Beautiful pictures too.

    Reply
  10. very pretty!! happy belated mother’s day.

    Reply
  1. Of Flowers and Roots |

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