My mother, Rita, died this past Saturday. She had been ill for a very long time, and her children know her release from this existence was a blessing.
My mother – a born and bred belle from Memphis, Tennessee – was the first to open my eyes to the beauty and wonder of flowers. Native vegetation did not fascinate her the way it enthralls me, but she knew the difference between a Red Maple, a White Oak, and a Sycamore, and she revealed those secrets to me when I was six or seven.
As a young mother, Rita enjoyed escaping the endless travails of child-rearing by puttering in her gardens. She grew the pretty flowers that her mother grew in Memphis: deep purple irises that always smelled faintly like bubble gum to my nose, orange and yellow lilies, snowy Shasta daisies, and chrysanthemums in an array of deep golds and bronzes, with spicy scents that still evoke for me the smell of burning leaves and the bite of crisp autumnal air.
Rita permitted my ten-year-old self to create my first wildflower garden in a north-facing flowerbed beside our towering brick home. I had noticed that this shady spot always seemed a bit damp; moss was trying to establish itself there. And I had observed that some of the common wildflowers I saw during my explorations of nearby second-growth Piedmont forest flourished in similar conditions.
So I went out to the woods, dug up a few bluets, violets, and some of the deep, thick moss that I called carpet moss, and carefully transplanted them beside the tall chrysanthemums that dominated the corner of the bed. Of course, now I know that one should never dig up flowers from the wild. But I was ten, and the flowers and moss I relocated occurred commonly throughout our Piedmont woods; I’m certain no lasting harm was done to the local ecosystem.
Rita shook her head at my little wildflower bed. The diminutive scale of pale bluets and purple violets – and the fleeting nature of their blooms – seemed a waste of effort to the drama-loving Memphis belle, who preferred color and fragrance in her flowers. But she indulged my enthusiasm, and by doing so, she played a big part in setting me on a lifelong flora-filled path.
Thanks for that, Rita. I pray you are at peace, enjoying a garden full of light and love.