Wednesday, March 16

Remembering the Gardens of Yesteryear

I've written before about my mother's mother, my Granny. Her garden was a wonder, and I bet the few commercial nurseries that remain today would love to have had some of her cultivars. She had everything from common monkeygrass to rare and wild specimens, including wild azalea trees and wild grapes, and more than a few bulbs I have never seen anywhere since. Her arbors were festooned with both perennials and annuals, with Spanish Flag and Cypress Vine climbing all over the passionflowers. I can remember her fussing over Mr. Lincoln, the deep red rose that was never as robust as she had hoped. 

This little collage shows just a tiny fraction of the plants from my childhood: Spirea Vanhouttei, scented geraniums, tallow tree berries, loquats (colloquially called "Japanese Plum") with their double seeds, and the unreal color and metallic shine of beautyberry.

Are gardens and gardening less popular now than a few decades ago? Or does it only seem so to me, because I know of no one who really gardens much, and I live in a particularly barren part of the desert? 

I think there is more emphasis now on food gardening, and less on specimen trees and flowers, perhaps because yards have shrunk. My neighbor's yard is so shallow that they can't park their truck in their own driveway. It hangs out into the street. Free time is a rare commodity now, too. Most women work outside the home. Multi-generational households are back up percentage-wise, but everyone's working or in school. Gardens take time, especially in the "establishing" phase.

I miss the colorful catalogs of yesteryear (and how I wish I had kept a few circa 1970!): Burpees, Gurney's, Park's, and the "newcomers" decades ago, Seymour's Selected Seeds (we called it "Lady Seymour's Seeds") and Johnny's from Maine. I would almost tremble with excitement when they would arrive in winter and I'd make my choices. And the choices seemed limitless, with variety after variety filling the pages. I guess they are now on the Internet, and I've seen rare, strange, and fantastical seeds for sale on Ebay. 

I think it's time for me to stop looking back at the heyday of the seed catalog, and start looking ahead. Even if the gardens of my youth have disappeared, perhaps I can plant a garden for my old age, with all the old favorites in it, and some of those new seeds from Ebay, too!

6 Elf-Friends have commented... :

  • Emma Springfield

    I thought I was the only person in the world who enjoyed reading the seed catalogs. Burpee was my favorite but they all had interesting offerings. I have never heard of a beauty berry. They are very pretty. Edible?

  • Olde Dame Penniwig

    Sadly, no, not edible. But we did make ink out of them!

  • Anonymous

    When I was a kid, we got one seed catalog and it was from a nusery in a small town twenty miles away. It still came in the winter, but we didn't order. It was always a big, fun trip to drive the twenty miles and got to the nursery as a family. You named a lot of things I have never heard of. Fun to learn something new.

  • Sylvie

    I used to love the catalogs from my favorite perennial nurseries, most of which are no longer in business. The rose descriptions were always so beautiful. The big box stores, as well as the factors you mentioned, have contributed to the demise of nurseries & seed growers. Very sad.

  • Cynthia

    There are some beautiful gardens around my new home in the South and it seems that everyone, even the poorest homes and trailers, has flowering trees and shrubs. It's been an amazing time for azaleas. Even the old ones along the roads back in the woods where I assume there was once a house are riots of colors.

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