Photos, Giverny and Amsterdam, by author, May 2018.
My mother’s garden at my parents’ “terminal house” (a term coined by a couple who, like Mom and Dad, had called many places home) was plowed under and sodded over by the decidedly off-Cape people who bought the Brewster, MA place after Dad died unexpectedly. Losing him broke her heart, and it broke again when she saw what had become of her garden.
Mom lingered another two years at the assisted living place a couple of towns away before a merciful stroke took her to Dad’s side. We didn’t visit the old house during that time, and I’ve now moved 1,500 miles down the coast to Florida.
But I’d like to think that Mom’s daffodils and tulips pushed their way through the carpet of grass the following spring, and that the hollyhock seeds sown by the wind clambered skyward nonetheless. I hope that the rhododendron still spews its riot of lavender by the front door, and that azaleas continue roaring their blaze of fuschia through the dead oak leaves along the back woods. The money plants surely shake their shimmering parchment coins where last year’s crop held forth, and the wild roses are compelled to bloom along the split-rail fence that borders the road leading toward the shore. It’s impossible to smother nature.
I wished that Mom could have been with my husband and me during our visit to Amsterdam (too late to see tulips in bloom, but found some in a vase) and Paris in May, and especially when we visited Claude Monet’s home and gardens .
She would have delighted in the familiar nodding fistfuls of purple flox,
the blasts of outrageous red poppies,
the faded blooms of the azeleas as tender as old tissue paper.
Mom would have stood with us on the Japanese bridge over Monet’s water garden, peering through the cascading wisteria.
And we’d have sat in the shade of the weeping willow looking at the water lillies.
Mom’s gardening blossomed when Dad retired after 20 years in the Foreign Service and they moved to Cape Cod, where she created a perennial garden that lit up the cul-de-sac: zinnias, poppies, hollyhocks, black-eyed susans in the summer; and chrysanthemums and asters in the fall.
She had the space and the passion and no claim on her time that wasn’t her choice. She found kindred souls in the Garden Club of Brewster, and even took her turn leading the Club. Mom, a President after being the woman behind the Embassy man for all those years!
The nomadic life, and the role and responsibilities, of the diplomat didn’t lend itself to digging in the dirt and watching things grow. Although the weather was eternally spring in Caracas (1955-59) she was a new Foreign Service wife, learning the trade and how to be the señora to our maid Fina and Mommy to my little sister and me. Then, we were in an apartment and barely into the growing season in Milan (1959-60 ) when orders came that we were to go to Bologna (1960-61), where the landlord maintained a dismal rose garden. In Rome (1961-63), the balconies were shaded and narrow, and the Embassy requirements were demanding. The position in Bogota (1963-66) came with a house and garden, but they were maintained by designated staff.
We all changed gears when Dad was assigned to the State Department (1966-71). Mom and Dad bought their first house, and the split level in Potomac Woods was soon ablaze in spring azeleas to match the flower dogwoods and fall chrysanthemums. We had no staff for Mom to work around, although I imagine that she would have appreciated some weeding help. My sister and I were up to our necks being genuine American teenagers and way too self-concerned to have noticed.
We were back overseas in 1971, this time in Madrid. Again, a house and garden came with the job, but the señora de la casa couldn’t garden: that was the gardener’s job, just as the housework and the cooking and the washing and ironing were jobs our live-in maids depended on for their families’ income.
In 1973, after a brief home leave, I stayed in the United States for college while my sister and parents flew off to the next post. Amazingly, it was Rome (1973-77), again, and this time the apartment that came with the job had an enormous terrace where potted plants could thrive.
Dad’s last Foreign Service assignment was serving as the Edward R. Murrow Fellow at Tuft’s University’s Fletcher School. Mom and Dad sold the house in Potomac Woods that they’d rented out when we went back overseas and bought a place in Boston overlooking Storrow Drive. Amazing spot, zero outdoors, but the Commons Garden around the corner was a great consolation prize. She got her gardening gloves back on at the summer home they bought in Sea Pines on Cape Cod, a place that stayed in the family when Mom and Dad found their “terminal home” down the road.
Mom would have known the names of all the flowers in these pictures. I should have paid more attention. But I picked up on the passion: I’ve grown an avocado and a mango tree from pits, our citrus tree produces lemons and limes six months a year, and we had to remove a banana plant, a passion fruit vine, and a coconut palm because they were taking over. Maybe it’s South Florida’s tropical environment. Or maybe Mom’s gardening magic is in the air.