Playing in the dirt.

Most recently, Gayla has asked who or what we look to for inspiration in our garden, with Grow Write Guild prompt #4.

For me, that would be Genevieve Mason, a woman I came to meet when my high school biology teacher tracked me down at the end of my senior year to ask if I’d like a job over the summer working in her stepmother’s garden.  Mrs. Mason, in her mid-eighties and frail health, was ordered by her doctors to have someone else tend her garden for her, lest she overwork herself.  I would have gladly done the work as a favor to one of my favorite teachers, but Mrs. Mason would not hear of it, and so we settled on a polite arrangement where once a week I gave her two hours of pruning and weeding, and she would give me a five dollar bill.

She was a delightful woman who had traveled a great deal, mostly to French-speaking countries and most often to France, having been a French teacher before her retirement.  Her husband had been gone for several years, and I expect that our three hours of conversation each week were a greater service to her than the two hours I spent in the garden before she would kindly insist that I come in and have a drink and rest a bit before walking home in the heat.

One of the first things she had me do was plant a flat of pansies right up against the house, and while I do not currently keep pansies, I always think of her when I see them, and if I ever get my Someday and have land of my own, pansies will be tucked in somewhere in her honor.  She had the most amazing climbing roses, which I pruned under her direction.  By mid-summer, when she wanted to add some soil amendments, I told her that I’d bring her a couple of bags of rabbit manure for free, so she could just buy enough pretty “dirt” to cover it with.  She was pleased with the offer, and so the next week, I spent the first hour spreading rabbit manure around flowers of every description, and the second spreading garden soil over the top of it.

She introduced me to Queen Anne cherries, and she had an impossible number of herbs in a tiny herb garden just off her kitchen.  Mint had escaped its bed near the garage, and I spent one week doing nothing but digging it out of the lawn.  She told me to take as many of the cuttings as I wanted, with the suggestion that I keep it in a large pot as she looked over the lawn to see if she could see any other strays.

She had two overgrown evergreen shrubs of some ilk on either side of her front door–which I never used, having been directed to the kitchen door ’round the side–but that she wanted to prune to clear the doorway of encroaching branches.  When I told her that I hadn’t the first idea how to prune evergreens, she said that she didn’t care, she hated the things, anyway, and to just cut it all back so that the doorway was clear six inches all the way around, as high as I could reach.  It was a hack job, but she was happy with it, and I have still never learned how to properly prune evergreens.

I left for college at the end of August, and that last week, she told me that her garden had not looked so lovely in many years and thanked me for helping her get it back into shape.  Then she gave me her suitcase, an old and battered light blue hard-side with her initials writ large on the side in red electrical tape, saying that her traveling days were over, but she hoped the suitcase that had served her well for many years would be of use to me as I packed to move several states away.

Mrs. Mason died that December, just three days before my great-grandfather also passed away, and news of both reached me an hour before a chemistry test.  I failed the exam, but I’ve had more use for the things I learned from her, anyway.


Comments on: "Inspiration and Influence" (2)

  1. It is nice that you had someone who introduced you to a variety of plants. I never really had a mentor, but I had a lot of books over the years that were my inspiration.

    • Thanks for stopping by! Books in general can be quite inspiring (I’m a librarian by profession), so I can totally see being inspired by books in the garden.

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