Her name is Edith Ann, but in our family, she is known as “Auntie.” She comes from Connecticut, and has spent her married life just southeast of Montreal – several zones further to the north. Auntie hails from a family that spent summers on a farm and recognized the value of gardening, however, she has never been a vegetable gardener, preferring to work on her large perennial border.
I was not very interested in gardening when I was young, but I was not entirely uninitiated. Our family spent summers at a cabin near a lake in the Laurentian mountains, north of Montreal. The growing season was frightfully short, and everything happened so fast in June and July, as if to make up for the abbreviated season. The plants seemed to sense that they had no time to linger, that it was grow, reproduce and die – all in a couple of months.
It was only when I had my first house that I began to appreciate the depth of Auntie’s knowledge. She had offered me perennial cuttings and was true to her word, arriving with several to get me started. Sensing the potential for finally having someone in the family who could share her passion, she began passing along her gardening magazines and giving me subscriptions to her favorites. We began discussing the merits of different cultivars – using the botanical names (she insisted!) and I looked forward to visiting that border of hers and taking the long version of the tour. Her garden was at its peak during those years, and was even featured in a popular house and garden magazine.
When I moved to Rhode Island, she could no longer give me cuttings and divisions, so she sent me seeds. Each variety was wrapped in its own little handmade envelope of waxed paper, with the description and instructions neatly written on the front. Many of those plants continue to grow in my garden today.
Auntie has not been able to work much in her garden in the past few years. I drove up to Canada a couple of times help her get it cleaned up in the spring, but as the summer progressed, it depressed her terribly to see all the deadheading and weeding that needed to be done, and know she was not strong enough to tackle it. She finally found a woman to set the garden to rights, a horticulturalist who works while Auntie directs her from a lawn chair.
Earlier this year, Auntie had a stroke and we nearly lost her. She is still working on her rehabilitation, and she can no longer get around without a cane, but her interest is as keen as ever.
It has been said that gardeners are the ultimate optimists, because we are always planning and looking ahead to the future. Auntie’s garden is a reflection of her optimism and her creativity, and as such, it has changed with her over the 50-odd years she has been working in it. It will not live on when she is no longer with us, and she is not the slightest bit sentimental about it either – at least not that I can see. What will live on, though, is the passion for plants that she passed on to me.
I will always have this wonderful thing in my life, and it all began with Auntie’s garden.