My mom is an artist, a grandmother, an insurance agent and a gardener. I’ve always appreciated my mom for all her talents and enthusiasms, but it has only been over the past six years (since I’ve taken a more profound interest in plants) that I’ve realized how much plants and gardening have played a role in her life…and in mine.
Rhododendrons, eggplants and rhubarb: these are the first three plants that come to mind when I recall my childhood growing up in Ellington, Connecticut, a small rural town 20 miles outside of Hartford. Rhododendrons: because I enjoyed snapping the ice off the waxy leaves while my mom more enjoyed the buds and blooms lighting up the front of the house through the spring and summer. Eggplants: because they seemed extraterrestrial and disproportionately large in our 10-by-20-foot vegetable garden, not to mention the eggplant Parmesan my mom would make (which I pronounced “eggplant Farmer John”). And rhubarb: because it was the only time Mom ever let me carry around a Ziploc bag full of sugar for dipping the stems. (Even though I did eat the leftover sugar straight up after finishing the stems.)
Ten years ago, my mom and dad packed up from Zone 5b (middle Connecticut) and moved 700 miles south for greener winters and warmer pastures near the beach. They settled in Leland, North Carolina, a suburb of the thriving college town of Wilmington and about a 25-minute drive to the Wrightsville Beach. Now in Zone 8b, my parents saw gardening as a whole new world. Most camellias would now thrive, while rhododendrons wouldn’t appreciate the the heat. Palms lined their new streets and people partied with azaleas. Passion flower vines (Passiflora caerulea) gave my mom new confidence in her new warm temperate climate. And did they ever explode along their fence…and then ours, too!
My parent’s garden is nearly six years old now, and the generic landscaping from when they bought the house in 2009 is now barely recognizable. They recall spending almost the entire summer of 2010 “sitting on [their] butts pulling weeds” and were rewarded with a beautiful luxurious lawn the next year. For my parents, it was the greatest sense of accomplishment in their new home. Along the new gardening journey, they’ve added gardenias, hydrangeas, holly, oleander, Knock Out roses, azaleas, grasses, Loropetalum, confederate jasmine, palms, passion vines, oxalis, yews, verbena, mint, daylilies, ferns, mandevilla, and Mexican petunias…to name a few.
Three years ago Chantal and I spent a memorable spring weekend enjoying their newfound Southern hospitality, feeling at home away from our home in Southern California. We spent the better half of a Saturday embarking on a tour of their garden. Living in coastal areas on opposite coasts, we could appreciate the differences and similarities in our gardens. Jasmine tangle with passion flower vines in both of our gardens. Lawns are a source of pride in North Carolina, but not realistic for us. You won’t find many thriving succulents in the ground growing aside camellias, but in containers they’ll do just fine.
And we’ve exchanged plants over the years. We cherish the same passion vines that climb up our fences, and we’ve fallen in love with hoyas (wax plants) after my mom introduced us to them back in 2013 — with texted photos of what we thought were fake blooms! Now we grow four different species of hoyas in our garden. It also turns out that my mom has coddled one of her wax plants for almost as long as me.
Here’s that Saturday morning tour of Mom’s garden in photos:
Happy Mother’s Day! –TH