April 26 2020
I had a friend, a fellow gardener, when I lived in South Dakota. Eleanor, at age 90, could rattle off the Latin names of plants and called her shovel Gus. Her cheerfulness, enthusiasm, and sense of humor were a constant source of inspiration to me. I know she had lost a son at a young age and lived far from her remaining children, but I never heard her complain. She laughed at her bent fingers and told us we should bury her standing up wearing her garden hat, under the sundial in the center of the garden. She wrote poetry and made pressed flower bookmarks and cards, and along with her husband kept immaculate gardens, revelling in the beauty of every flower.
Daylilies were her favorite flower, she would grow and name her own cultivars and I still have a large lemon daylily she gave me. I have dug it up and brought it with me (along with dozens and dozens of other plants) through four different gardens and I always think of her when it blooms.
Together with the local garden club we worked on a small community garden in an empty lot in the small town where she lived. She had grown up in California and told me her mother used to walk around her gardens every evening with her hands clasped behind her back to remind herself to just look, don’t touch, don’t work; to see the beauty in the gardens and not all the jobs yet to be done. It’s a good thing, what Eleanor taught me, I am frequently so immersed in the endless tasks a garden demands that I forget to notice the beauty, except in passing.
We planted a rose in that small community garden (this was a garden just for beauty, not a vegetable in sight) called Livin’ Easy, a soft orange floribunda that Eleanor particularly loved. I was very excited to find that rose 10 years later at a local nursery in my new home 500 miles away and bought one to put in my greenhouse. I don’t think it’s reliably hardy here in Montana, but should be fine in the protected environment of the greenhouse where it is planted in the ground.
Every time I look at that rose I remember Eleanor and I remember to put my hands behind my back and just look. It always brings a smile to my face, and then I remember she liked another rose called “Betty Boop”, too. Just because.