The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

My Great-Grandmother's Flower Garden

By Susan M. Thigpen © 1992

Issue: July-August-September, 1992

When I was a child, I loved to spend time in my great-grandmother's flower garden. It was a formal garden, rectangular in shape and surrounded with a high boxwood hedge. You could only enter it in one place, through the gate, and for me, it was a special fairy tale place for a child with my imagination.

At one time, my great-grandfather worked for a nursery and brought home cuttings for the garden. That was many years before my time though; it was in the time of my mother's childhood. I only have one memory of my great-grandfather. He died when I was only five years old, but I remember him as being a jolly person. My mother confirmed this opinion and said he was a fun loving person that took children fishing. I wonder if it was his imagination that transposed itself on the garden to make it magical for children.

When you went inside the garden, you were separated from the normal everyday world and transported into whatever world you wished it to be. You could imagine there was a castle on the other side of the hedge and you were a princess. It didn't take a wide stretch of the imagination to feel like it was magical, like the stories of elves, sprites and fairies children of my generation read about in their bedtime story books.

In one corner was a huge mimosa tree inviting me to climb it and smell its fragrant frilly pink blooms. I spent a lot of time up in its branches. In the middle of the garden was a pomegranate tree. That conjured up thoughts of Persian fables and Arabian nights. There were other exotic shrubs growing to almost tree proportions such as an osage orange that smelled tangy but wasn't for eating.

Here and there, scattered randomly throughout the garden were common, everyday flowers such as sweet William's and bachelor buttons, both smelling spicy like tiny carnations. Tall hollyhocks produced bright red blossoms that I made into doll-ladies by turning them upside down so the bloom became a wide skirt and placing a bud on top for a head. Small twigs made arms.

It seems like there were flowers everywhere. The side-ditches along the dirt road were filled with sweet peas and the path to the out house was lined with day lilies.

As I grew older, the garden became a wonderful place to pretend I was an international spy. I would burrow into the hedge wall for a secret passage, although I was always fussed at for doing so. It made an ugly gap in the hedge. The garden was an ideal place to hide eggs at Easter also.

My great-grandparents have been gone for a long time now. My great-grandfather died, I think, in 1949 and my great-grandmother in 1962. My great-grandmother was an interesting person to talk with. I remember when I was around twelve she told me that she remembered her older sister wearing hoop skirts and once she saw a hanging. She never quite fit into the modernized world. When a new electric stove was brought into her house, she often burned her fingers because she would touch the stove "eyes" to see if they were hot enough to start cooking on yet.

The houses where most of the relatives on my mother's side lived in a close little community, were sold one by one through the years, and now the family have all gone to different places. A couple of years ago my mother and I went back to look around. The little community where practically all of mother's family lived has changed.

The small, white house of my great-grandparents is still there, but there is only a level grassy lawn where the garden once stood. There is not one single tree, shrub or flower planted on it. I have no idea why it was all torn away and cannot understand why the people who bought it didn't have the imagination to see it as the wonderful magical place I did.

All that remains today of my great-grandmother's formal flower garden are some old, faded photographs of adults and children dressed in Easter finery holding baskets of eggs, standing beside the hedge. The garden will never live again as it was - except in memories.