Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Betty's Garden


Layanee’s post at Ledge and Garden about her father inspired me to write about my own gardening mentor. Barely five feet, my mother Betty McLaren had a personality as big as her adopted Texas. A native New Zealander, Betty came to the US to marry her Navy sweetheart (my dad) in 1946. They soon moved to Texas where Betty dug herself in, literally, creating elaborate gardens at every home we lived in. A lifelong smoker (Lucky Strikes), bridge player, gin & tonic drinker, stay-at-home mom, autodidact, accomplished seamstress, and artist in many media, my mother rarely sat still.

Relentlessly creative, she mastered woodcarving, furniture building, batik, papier maché, oils, embroidery, decoupage, and her true métier, watercolors. My walls are filled with her remarkable paintings of landscapes, San Antonio Fiesta celebrations, Mexican markets, and beach scenes.

But my mother’s largest canvas and her masterwork was her garden. I remember staying home from school one day when I was in the sixth grade (sort of sick but really just needing a mental health day) and enjoying the great luxury of having Mom all to myself. We dug a hole in the back yard, mixed cement, and created a small pond. This was one of three ponds my mother eventually built in her yard. Fish, fountains, pumps, cypress plants, lilies; something was always being transplanted or improved, winding brick paths laid, new beds dug. The patio which started out by the kitchen door, kept growing until it wrapped around the whole side of the house and was filled with hundreds of pots of impatiens, firecracker fern, pentas, twining cypress vine. Her yard was packed with crepe myrtles, trumpet vine, pomegranite, plumbago, oxblood and day lilies, pyracantha, turk's cap, tradescantia, physotegia, elephant ears, philodendron, ferns, and nameless climbing roses. In the mild San Antonio winters, my mother was able to grow violets; and the memory of collecting little nosegays of violets with Mom and my two small daughters is as sweet as their smell. My mother loved a challenge and succeeded in growing in the ground tropicals like plumeria, croton, and bananas. If you closely at this photo, you'll see that she is eyeing a bunch of green bananas on this tree. Twelve years after her death, an immense hot pink bougainvillea, that must be around 30 years old, continues to thrive and bloom in the front yard of her garden undaunted by winter cold.

Curving beds, no straight angles. Ruthless pruning and getting rid of weak or untidy growth. Patience and the long view. Having a big vision that informs one’s garden plan. Scale, pattern, and texture matter as much or more than flowers. These are some of the things about gardening I learned from my mother.

4 comments:

Pam/Digging said...

Your mother sounds like a remarkable woman. It's wonderful that you have her example to live by.

vertie said...

What a sweet remembrance. Makes me feel like I knew her.

Layanee said...

Your post has left me with a grin on my face! I know our mother's generation takes a lot of heat but I have met my Mom's friends and she and they are just like your description of your Mom! We have been blessed!

Cote de Texas said...

Aw chat! so sweet. I love the Lucky Strike reference. Your mother sounds so much like my mother in law (minus the Lucky Strikes!). I think she'll be gardening up until the day she passes.

And, thanks for your thought provoking comment! Wow - it was so interesting to read!

thanks again,
Joni