Gardens Are for Sharing

Aunt Viola’s Gift

Like the flower for which she was named, my Aunt Viola was a vibrant, colorful person. But she was no “Shrinking Violet.” Typical of the mountain women of her time, she lived the harsh life of the Appalachian farm wife of the 1920-40’s. She was robust and strong, as she needed to be in order to care for her ailing husband and her large family. Mother often sent my sisters and me to help her with such tasks as the family laundry, picking vegetables from the garden for canning, or peeling apples for drying or for making apple butter.

We always enjoyed working with her because she told us stories of family members who had passed on before our time. Some of the stories were humorous and they were always entertaining. If we finished our chores with time to spare she would brew a pot of tea for us. As we sat on the porch sipping the hot beverage, she would take her corncob pipe out of her apron pocket and smoke while entertaining us with her stories.

My favorite thing to do at Aunt Viola’s was anything that took me into her unique garden. She grew plants that were unusual to us, such as dill and asparagus. The garden fence was covered with grape vines. She had red raspberries in addition the black variety indigenous to other gardens of the area. Even her orchard had varieties of apples not found on other farms.

Interspersed among the vegetables in the garden were flowers, most of which reseeded themselves each year. She allowed them to grow undisturbed. Red and purple poppies were prolific. She introduced me to such delights as Bachelor Buttons and Jerusalem Artichoke. Some of the plants had strange names, often of her own making. I remember one in particular that had felt-like leaves similar to mullein. She named it appropriately “Flannel Petticoat.”

One year she planted a row of gladiola corms that she had ordered form a nursery catalog. We watched them sprout and grow throughout the spring and early summer. Then one day flower spikes began to appear. We waited eagerly for the colors to show, and then for the full red, yellow and purple blooms. The day they were at their peak we went by her house to accompany her to the funeral of a neighbor.

Florists were unheard of in our remote area. The flowers at funerals were brought from friends’ gardens. Aunt Viola asked me to carry the basket while she cut a funeral spray. She ignored all the other flowers in the garden and walked straight to the gladiolas. I was horrified as she began to cut them one by one and place them in the basket I held. I followed her in stunned silence, not daring to speak the protest I felt.

When she had cut the last colorful spike, she turned and looked at me. She responded to the pain that must have been obvious in my face. “Child,” she said, “flowers are for giving. And remember, when you share beauty, it always comes back to you.”

It was a week or more before I began to understand what she meant. I went with her again to the garden. The gladiolas were not dead as I expected. Instead, new shoots growing from the sheared stems would demonstrate the return of shared beauty. I have observed the implications of the lesson she taught me many times over the years in the lives of kind, generous people.

December, 1999