Mom's garden

Mom’s Garden: From New England to North Carolina (and California) With Love

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.)

I spent countless hours tending the yard with Mom. My mother always let me water!

Mom's Garden - The Horticult

From left to right, a blooming rhododendron in the front of our house, myself, and my brother Neal (also an avid gardener).

Mom's Garden - The Horticult

In 2006, my parents moved from Connecticut to sandy Wilmington, North Carolina, where they could take impromptu seashell walks  along the beach. In June, my parents will be celebrating their 45th anniversary! After starting up a new Lutheran Church, Amazing Grace, they could not be happier.

Mom's garden

My mom is most proud of her passion flower vines (Passiflora caerulea). She received a small bare root plant from a coworker back in 2009 and it has since taken over their east-facing fence. Mom then sent us one of hers and it exploded along our west-facing fence in San Diego (left).

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.

Mom's Garden - The Horticult

Mom and Dad’s new home in May of 2009.

Mom's Garden - The Horticult

Four years later and look at that jelly palm (Butia capitata)! Photo taken in June of 2013.

Mom's Garden - The Horticult

In June of 2013 (three months after launching The Horticult) we photographed and toured their garden.

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:

Mom's Garden - The Horticult

Boxwoods were part of the generic landscaping. Soon the boxwoods were boxing in the the new hydrangeas. Those planters in the window box contain Vicks plant (Plectranthus tomentosa) which is a succulent and now grows rampant in our garden. Thanks Mom!

Mom's Garden - The Horticult

Mom's garden

We can grow crepe myrtles back in Southern California, but they would never look this lush.

Mom's garden

And here’s why!

Mom's Garden - The Horticult

In the foreground: a thirsty Oxalis triangularis. We spot a succulent (Sedum) growing out of the statue. That statue was a gift to my mother in the ’90s, when she never could have imagined turning it into a planter.

Mom's Garden - The Horticult

Chantal chases a ladybug while a canna lily enjoys some morning sun.

Here’s that shot on our Instagram feed!

Mom's garden

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Strictus’ or porcupine grass.

Mom's Garden - The Horticult

Mom's Garden - The Horticult

Mom's Garden - The Horticult

Loropetalum chinense or Chinese fringe flower.

Mom's garden

My dad does much of the gardening, too, including trimming the Chinese fringe flower hedge on the side of the house.

Mom's Garden - The Horticult

My mom started a sign business in the mid ’80s and ran it with my dad for almost 20 years back in Connecticut. This was one of my favorite signs that my mom made. When the Golden Goose jewelry store closed, the owners offered the sign back to my mom. Made of redwood, (sandblasted and gold-leafed) it’s still standing up to the weather and is now garden art.

Mom's Garden - The Horticult

Oleander. This is usually just a blur along our Southern California highways.

Mom's Garden - The Horticult

Mom's garden

We’re both in love with this modern birdfeeder. Mom’s is on the left and ours is on the right. Unfortunately it’s no longer available at CB2. My mom is inspired by watching how many plants the birds, especially hummingbirds, are attracted to.

Mom's Garden - The Horticult

Mom's Garden - The Horticult

Yellow mandevilla.

Mom's Garden - The Horticult

Knock Out roses were actually one of my parents’ biggest disappointments in their garden. They just didn’t take off and bloom like they had envisioned.

Mom's garden

Gardenias go gangbusters in their garden! My mom is always decorating the dinner table with the blooms.

Mom's Garden - The Horticult

Mom's Garden - The Horticult

Mom's Garden - The Horticult

And inside also!

Mom's garden

Over the past two years, my mom has started growing gloxinias. Gloxinias enjoy consistently moist soil and should be watered below the leaves. Mom sent us home with one last year but sadly it didn’t survive outside. We’re hoping to give it another try soon!

Mom's garden

Mom's garden

Mom keeps all of her gloxinias indoors in double pots. On the left is another plant that we have in common: We actually call our Crassula ovata “Mama Jade.”

Mom's Garden - The Horticult

Mom's garden

We both tend our wax plants on opposite coasts. Mom keeps hers on a stool in the master bedroom bathroom where it gets plenty of bright indirect light. We keep our Hoya carnosa ‘Krinkle 8’ under a north-facing eave year-round.

Mom's garden

Finally, the heirloom Hoya carnosa and my favorite of Mom’s oil paintings.

Happy Mother’s Day! –TH

  • Denise

    Ryan, you are always full of surprises, fun and love. This is by far the sweetest gift I have received. Thank you for all the beautiful thoughts, words and memories. Remember on Timber Lane how we cleared the overgrown brush on our 700′ driveway? We planted pachysandra along both sides. Another disappointing planting. Here is my favorite watercolor I painted while we lived on Oakwood Cir. Ellington. I painted this pleinair sitting in the woods in our backyard. 1983
    Love, hugs and kisses,
    Mom
    xoxoxo

  • Mark Magnuson

    As a fellow gardener who was inspired by my mother’s passion for gardening, your post was much appreciated. My mother is now 87 and can only dream of her time growing beautiful things. Thanks for writing such a great tribute. What a great story for Mothers day.