Growing up, I have fond memories of my mother’s Lily-of-the-Valley. Whenever it was in bloom, she would pick a small bouquet for the house, and the kitchen filled with the flower’s intoxicating scent. In my mind, those flowers and their fragrance will forever have a connection to my mother, and I will always think of her when I see them. The sight and taste of blackberries also remind me of her and my childhood. We had a large patch of blackberries in our yard, and as children, my sister and I would fill our bellies and our pails to the brim each summer. My mother would then make delicious pies out of the juicy berries. Several of my fondest memories link with plants. I believe that plants can elicit memories, with the mere sight, taste, or fragrance of certain varieties that we identify with, helping us recall moments or special people.
When walking by my Grape Ice Ladyslipper (Streptocarpus) and Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum wallisii), gifted to me by my mother-in-law, I fondly think of her. Likewise, my money tree (Pachira aquatica), symbolizing luck and prosperity, was given to me by my husband when I started a new chapter in my life. Every time I water it, I think of him and how much his support means to me. Biting into the juicy strawberries from my garden each June reminds me of Aunt Linda, who gifted the plants to us from her garden a few years ago. I feel honored to be the caretaker of all of these gifted plants, and I believe that by passing them down, we stay connected even when we are apart.
Passing down plants and seeds is not a modern concept. Historically, generations of farmers handed down their seeds season to season, year after year, to feed their families. The mere act of gifting seeds to the next generation was a matter of survival. Many of these seeds would become intertwined in their family history. By gifting cherished seeds and plants, farmers would pass down that history and, in so doing, keep the memories associated with that history alive.
I am the caretaker of two such hand-me-down plants, an iris (Iris pallida ‘Dalmatica’), and some chives (Allium schoenoprasum), that are entwined in our family history. We estimate the plants to be between 80-100 years old, originating in the garden of my husband’s great-grandmother Alice. His grandparents, Ruth and Louis, inherited her garden when they moved into the house in the early 1950s and became the garden caretakers. Divisions of the plants were gifted to me when we purchased our home, and now, 17 years later, they still reside in my garden.
Unfortunately, I never got the chance to meet great-grandmother Alice, but I think of Ruth whenever those lavender irises bloom and when tasting the chives in a family recipe. When she passed several years ago at the age of 103, it became even more apparent how much those plants mean to me. I can’t help but smile every time I look at those gifted plants, and I’ve come to realize that when I planted her horticultural gifts in my garden, I was also planting memories.
My grandmother Rose Marie (Mimi to me), loved flowers. I remember visiting her as a child and being in awe that she was growing a banana tree in her Zone 9 garden, unimaginable in our family’s Zone 5. Zone differences may have kept me from growing a plant from her garden, but I do think of her whenever my lilac is in bloom. She loved visiting us when the lilacs were at their peak. Whenever we were together, no matter what we were doing, she would always say that we were “Making Memories.” Sadly, she lost her battle with Alzheimer’s disease. In the end, all of her memories were taken from her. She instilled in me the importance of memories, not only creating them but also keeping them alive. For me, gifting plants is a beautiful means for doing just that. When planting these meaningful gifts, the memories of the special people that gifted them will also be planted.
I hope to continue to add plants to my memory garden, filling it with hand-me-downs and plants that elicit fond memories. This year I planted our first blackberry patch, and my mother has promised to pass along some of her Lily-of-the-Valley so that I, too, can pick a bouquet each year for my kitchen and think of her. Perhaps someday, when my son is grown and has a garden of his own, I will pass these plants and their memories on, or we can make new memories of our own. In the meantime, I will keep “Making Memories” just as Mimi taught me and planting some too.