The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Grow A Grandmother's Flower Garden

By Susan M. Thigpen © 1987

Issue: March, 1987

We all remember them, the flower gardens our grandmothers grew. They might have been a long strip along the road front of the yard, right next to the back door or lining the path to the out house, but one thing was for sure, our grandmothers sure took pride in them.

Picture, if you will, an old fashioned farm house and yard. There was probably boxwood bushes on either side of the front steps. If not boxwoods, then some kind of evergreen shrub, giving off a musty faint odor. Next to these were probably yellow bell (forsythia) bushes. At a special place of honor was usually a special rose bush, Grandma's pride and joy. It usually had a story attached to its origin. Sometimes it was a cutting started from a dear friend's bush, or had been carried a great distance to rest in that soil.

The back door, usually off the kitchen, sometimes had hollyhocks or sunflowers planted there. There was an old saying that if you planted a sunflower at your kitchen door and watered it everyday, you would be granted one wish. As for the hollyhocks, many little girls have made fancy dress lady dolls out of their blooms.

Every grandmother worth her salt always had both marigolds and zinnias. Many had "dinner plate" dahlias, so named because of the size of the blooms.

A lot of the flowers were grown from bulbs and tubers carefully separated and replanted each year and shared with friends. These included daffodils, lily of the valley (in fact lilies of many different varieties), irises and "glads" in every shade of the rainbow and then some.

Several old fashion flowers that died down but came back year after year were bleeding hearts and peonies. Oh, do you remember that wonderful aroma of a vase full of fragrant peonies and the creamy pink petals that constantly dropped gently in a circle around the vase.

Grandma was also partial to four o'clocks, snap dragons, sweet peas, petunias, nasturtiums and sea roses.

In every old fashion yard were flowering shrubs. Forsythia has already been mentioned, but there was also breath of spring, bridal veil spirea, snow ball bushes, mock orange, and of course lilacs. It was believed that lilacs wouldn't bloom until seven years after planting. One particular shrub, the "sweet bubbie" seemed to be planted most often near a bedroom window so that on warm summer nights, when the windows were opened, the spicy sweet smell of the little brown blooms would drift right in the house.

Grandmother might not have been big on house plants, an occasional Christmas cactus being the extent of her indoor care, but one thing for certain; she took an extraordinary pride in her outside flower garden. No one had to tell her a thing about landscaping. She planted and tended well.

March is the spring of the year. It is the time we are all thinking about getting outdoors and maybe planting a few flowers of our own. Perhaps you would like to start a "Grandmother's Flower Garden" of your own. If you look close, the seed and garden shops still carry most of the old varieties that grandma chose for her garden. Rekindle the tradition for your children and grandchildren. Grow huge plots of old fashion color, pick often and share freely. After all, didn't Grandma always pick a bunch of flowers, wrap them in wax paper, put a rubber band around them and give them to you to carry home? What nicer thing could you give a visitor to your home this summer? What nicer gift could you give to yourself?