Abby Johnson: Mom gave me love for flowers

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My mother didn’t believe in Mother’s Day. It was commercial, saccharine and contrived in her view. A kid-made card, colorful pansies to plants, and time in the garden were the extent of our celebration.

It’s fitting flowers were involved because she was a crackerjack gardener. At the time I didn’t appreciate her green thumb or spending time with her in the garden. But now that I’m an avid gardener myself, I understand the attraction — obsession — addiction to growing flowers.

In Connecticut where I was raised, the soil was rocky. Low walls of gray fieldstone contained several levels of garden built long ago on the gentle slope of the lawn. I don’t have photos but in my mind’s eye, the taller showy plants were in the bed closer to the rock patio with smaller plants below, edging the lawn. Mom enriched that rocky soil with homegrown organic compost from a humus pile created with summer grass clippings, fall leaves, rain and time to sustain the abundant flowers in her garden.

Mom nurtured giant peony bushes whose white and pink hued blooms were so profuse and weighty she lassoed them to stakes during peak bloom. And the phlox. In Connecticut, tall white pink and purple blossoming phlox grew without control before Mom intervened. She treated them like weeds, yanking up the excess. Here in Nevada, my phlox comes from the garden center and every bloom is cherished.

My garden is a canvas of color when everything’s blooming as promised. Peonies and poppies are the spring overture to summer’s blossoms. Spiky petite pink Veronica and disheveled magenta mayhem bee balm flank the giant lavender bush which attracts bees all summer. Oregano and thyme fill in the gaps. In a lucky year, aromatic sweet peas blush a rainbow of color and climb; tendrils wrap around a trellis like the grasp of a baby’s finger. Nasturtiums provide edible color next to tenacious morning glories. Hummingbirds hover, chirp and dive bomb each other for sips of nectar. Bring on the hummingbird wars!

Last gardening season, we had families of ground squirrels living under our deck next to the garden. At first entertaining, the baby Chips and Dales frolicked and stayed close. Gradually they ventured forth and by the fall, they were gone. But it was an illusion. This spring we discovered that ground squirrels tunneled under and through the garden to winter-feast on garlic chives, phlox, geum and day lilies, among other treats.

We hope to head off another winter of garden gutting by using a critter control service to live-trap the ground squirrels and relocate them to a more natural if less delectable habitat.

I do have a kind word about ground squirrels. Their relentless consumption and destruction presents a do-over opportunity to rethink the plants that will come back every year and to paint with flowers as my mother did.

Mom has been gone a long time but her love of gardening and her appreciation of nature are with me always, and so is she. Happy Mother’s Day.

Abby Johnson is a resident of Carson City, and a part-time resident of Baker, Nev. She consults on community development and nuclear waste issues. Her opinions are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of her clients.


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