Maggie's Newspaper Column
In My Year-Round Garden
and plant profile series and feature stories
appeared in the Saturday Home Gardening section
of the Ft. Worth Star Telegram

Available for speaking engagements through

The Gardener's Garden History

The first seed of a gardener is usually sown in our earliest memories. Mine probably began in a tiny village in England, when my toddler-aged Sunday school class was paraded into the woods to pick a clutch of violets for Mother's day gifts. This is one gift-giving event that was not exclusively invented by Hallmark. Ancient historic origins begin beyond record, but Christian adaptations converted the occasion to celebrate ''Mothering Sunday' on the Lenten calendar, when violets purpled the countrysides of England. There, nosegay tokens became a tradition for motherly tributes.

My first violet-picking for Mother's day in the woods told me this was a wonderful world that provided such beauty for the gathering, but I was about to learn that some flowers could belong to only one person. In spite of the church's best intentions, the violet's perfume instigated my first theft. One day, I found a fragrant pink hyacinth and knew I must share its wonder with my mother. But as I was running through the back door with the awesome bloom, the next-door neighbor was knocking at the front. I had to return the poor broken thing to its owner, but I still possessed it in memory. From then on, nothing was spared. All flora I ever met was mine for the mental keeping, if only by the fragrance, sight and name of each bloom. And so we are smitten.

To fall in love with flowers in England is cause for a serious addiction, as it seems the entire country is one huge garden. I never actually owned one of those idealistic children's gardens and never had the urge to make one, as I embraced all others I could find. Then we moved to Texas.

Given the general climate of the Southern state, plus a  multiyear drought of the decade, I had landed in a comparatively floral desolation, but reveled in whatever colored petals could be found. Our yard sprouted ancient purple iris, tiger lilies, spirea shrubs and fragrant abelia faithfully, without human commitment. Many of these were the 'pass-along' plants that had arrived with the colonists. Like the settlers, their descendants still live here because they were tough enough to survive westward migration across this vast country.

In our new Texan town, there was a bare-bones of a garden at my sister's art teachers home. The neglected plot was a symmetrically laid parterre built of native stone, centered with a birdbath. She must have attempted unadaptable plantings, because in abandonment, the rock-etched earth was left dry and dusty. I remember craving to paint it with blooms as easily as the owner-artist colored her canvas.

Occasionally, my brother, sister and I were shipped off to elderly family friends for a few weeks each summer. There I learned the bounty of an American country garden where the entire front yard was filled with flowers and the backyard grew only edibles. Hot humid days were filled with canning and quilting and otherwise partaking of the culture from another era. There were bushels of peaches to peel, watermelons ripening under beds and a pantry full of primary colored vegetables in well-sealed mason jars. Exploring the contents of wardrobes and trunks were the highlights of rainy days. Filled with souvenirs of a couple's lifetime, the stashes held photos and papers, memento gifts and most wonderfully, hand made linens all carefully packed with aromatic herbs to discourage bugs. These summer excursions were a time machine into the pragmatics of relying on the earth for sustenance. My respect for the fruits of the soil grew. I learned that beyond esthetics for the senses, gardening was a way of life and that cultivating and recycling were some of the means. Eventually, the learning of these logical practices helped build my own plot.

It was due to my mother's British origins that once again we crossed the ocean. To me it seemed a parental ploy to maintain a constantly culture-shocked childhood. The teen years were spent in a town just west of London. This time the front yard was a lavender-edged rose garden and my father tilled up half of the back for vegetables.

Back in Texas, I began a career in the nursery trade in the early 70's before venturing into other retail ventures. While working away from home, I a kept a small tropical greenhouse and made some mild attempts at border color, but still I waited until I would have my own garden, a proper garden. And now I am one of those "little ol' ladies that gardens" and finally can grow my own violets and hyacinth bulbs since discovering how to paint-the-beds in this hot, arid terrain. In our classic styled, organic garden we can find something to cherish in the heart and the hand, all year long on this half-acre limestone rock of Ft. Worth, Texas.



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