A garden guru honors mother in the garden

Published on Thu, May 5, 2011 by By Naomi Knowlton

Read More News

It’s soon to be Mother’s Day, and in that I am lucky. My mother turns 96 next month and lives an independent life.

Although in constant pain, she is ready to discuss or debate any current issue, and with her life, sets an example of senior living for her children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and great-great grandchildren. All who know her seek her company and wisdom – her garden wisdom included.

My mother was always a gardener. It began out of necessity during the Great Depression.

Through her actions, and not her words, she taught me early how to enrich and augment the soil with the annual delivery of fresh “biological” manure.

Long before sustainable agriculture was in vogue she composted garden waste, hand dug weeds and limited her spraying for pests to soapy water or a judicious sprinkling of cayenne pepper.

For as much as she would plan her crops for rotation, studiously pick individual vegetables to “make the cut” for each year’s garden, carefully prune her quince and deadhead her flowers, her actions were at the mercy of Dad’s shovel.

Dad would happily topdress the garden with manure or compost, plant a winter cover crop such as rye or clover, and he would, without discussion, just as happily chop down the quince or eliminate a complete flower bed, all in being “helpful.”

On Mother’s Day we each have our own reflections and memories. I have some suggestions for ways to honor those, and our mothers, in her garden or in your own. In 1908, Anna Jarvis promoted the idea of honoring mothers with a special day, the second Sunday in May, and coined Mother’s Day.

President Woodrow Wilson made the day an official national holiday in 1914. Jarvis chose carnations at the first Mother’s Day celebration, as they were her mother’s favorite flower.

Since Victorian times, flowers have been chosen to convey meaning to the recipient. Pink carnations are symbolic of a mother’s love. If you would like to plant carnations to represent your mother’s love, you would choose dianthus caryophyllaceae.

There are two categories of carnations, florist and border types. The border varieties are bushier and bear profusely with single or double flowers in many colors; the color pink is the symbolic choice for Mother’s Day.

Dianthus, or pinks, as they are commonly called, are perennials and form attractive green or gray/green tufts of grass-like leaves and are effective as border edgings or in mixed flower borders. Pinks thrive in full sun and in light, fast-draining soil.
Another appropriate choice to plant in remembrance for Mother’s Day would be a lilac, the deciduous, shrub-like tree that in our area traditionally blooms in time for Mother’s Day.

Purple lilacs symbolize first love. Syringa vulgaris, common lilac, has many named varieties, and your local garden center or the Master Gardeners could help you choose an appropriate variety for your particular garden situation.

All lilacs prefer an alkaline soil, so if your soil is strongly acidic adding lime to the drip line of the plant will make it much happier. You can purchase a simple soil test to determine if your soil is acidic or alkaline, and I will discuss this more fully in another column.

For me, nothing is more appropriate or inexpensive than the forget-me-not myosotis scorpioides. This perennial, with its profusion of exquisite, tiny, bright blue flowers with yellow centers grows easily and thickly as a border plant or ground cover.
It has a long bloom period, grows in many conditions, and looks very attractive in contrast to the other blooming spring trees and plants, such as the white blooms of cherry and plum trees, the pink blossoms of apple trees, and the colors of daffodils and tulips.
A charming German folk tale tells how a knight, walking on a riverbank with his ladylove, reached for an exquisite small blue flower and tragically fell into the river. As he fell he called out, “vergiss mein nicht”... forget me not.
Rosmarinus officinalis (labiatae) is the commonly known herb rosemary. Historically, rosemary has been known to mean remembrance.

In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Ophelia laments, “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance; pray, love, remember...”
Rosemary is a rugged yet attractive plant with aromatic dark green, thin, spiked leaves and a bloom of lavender blue flower in spring – it is currently blooming in our area. Often, there is a repeat bloom in the fall.

Rosemary can withstand hot sun and poor soil, but don’t overwater. It likes Mediterranean conditions, dry summers and wet winters.

By choosing rosemary to plant in a container, mix in a perennial border or add to your vegetable or herb garden, you will not only have an aromatic herb for cooking or adding to bouquets, you will also be adding the meaning of remembrance to your garden or container. 

Prostraus is a trailing variety of rosemary. Combining prostraus with pink dianthus, forget-me-nots and perhaps an evergreen ornamental grass such as Festuca glauca Elija Blue would make a very attractive and meaningful container garden for Mother’s Day.

To make it longer lasting you could add a dwarf conifer and after the forget-me-nots have finished blooming, cut off the blooms, leave the roots in place and carefully plant the annual blue lobelia. Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers, to those who have a mother or hold a mother’s memory in their heart.

Please remember, a garden is never finished. It is a work in progress, and there are no big secrets to a healthy garden.
A recipe for a healthy productive garden: common sense, good gardening practices (which we can learn) and consistent effort.
“Keep a tree in your heart, and perhaps a singing bird will come.”
    – Chinese proverb.

Please send your gardening questions to the garden guru at infor@thenorthernlight.com or contact the Master Gardeners at WSU Whatcom County Extension office 360/676-6736.