It’s Alive … Honoring The Gardener

Horse on Village Green In EnglandI have never been much of a gardener although I’ve purchased more than few books over the years on designing, building, and maintaining  an outdoor space, and I can certainly perform the routine maintenance tasks that go with a typical American yards such as grass cutting, hedge trimming, and weed pulling, but living in Cornwall I’ve had a chance to slow down and appreciate the green-thumbed efforts of others like never before.

Not long after I married my husband and moved to his home in England, I met a very interesting man who at the time was in his late 80s. On my way back from a run one day, I noticed him walking slowly at the edge of the village green carrying several small bags looking as if he’d just come from the local shop. I realized as I got closer that he lived in one of the houses on a road nearby and I stopped to chat and to offer a hand with his shopping.

Walking back to his house, he told me how he use to bike around Cornwall in his 40s and his travels took him through our village. It was our good fortune that he moved here after retiring from a career in forestry service because when Dutch elm disease took most of the trees on the green in the 70s, he was part of a group of folks who replanted the trees we now enjoy.

Not long ago his house was sold after his health deteriorated and he could no longer live on his own. His house went to someone who lived locally on the edge of the village who wanted to downsize and be closer to its center. Mr. Thomas had a lovely garden although there was so much there that it was easy to over look much of what made it special. I always loved his huge hydrangea bush and an unusual pine tree that I’ll say more about in another post.

I was never much a fan of the hydrangea until I saw some of the gorgeous full ones that grow here. I think my experience in the US made me think of them as being chronically spindly with big heads.

When I saw that the lady who bought Mr. T’s house was making major changes to the front and back garden, I meant to ask about snagging the hydrangea bush if she didn’t want it. I assumed she might not after seeing it cut back to the ground, but I almost waited to late to ask.

John and I were on our way out one day and saw a truck at the house filled with roots and bits that had been in the front garden. John stopped the car when I shouted and I went around the back of the house where I could see some men using a mini digger to pull up more of the tougher roots.

After explaining my sentimental connection to our former neighbor and his hydrangea bush, I asked if I might go through the roots in the truck bed to see if I could find any parts of the hydrangea and they not only said yes, but they stopped to help me sort through it. After a bit of digging, we found a couple of limbless chunks of root and we took them home hoping we had managed to find some parts of the hydrangea.

John does the gardening and said he’d plant them the next day as he was on his way out, but I got worried and dug a couple of holes while he was away because I too impatient to wait.

I’ve been keeping watch over two root bits in particular of the four I planted a few months ago, and I was over the moon to see new shoots popping out of the two I thought were part of the hydrangea.

Purple Hydrangea Bush, UKIt may not bloom this year, but I hope it won’t be too long before it looks like it did when it was nurtured by Mr Thomas.

Purple Hydrangea Bush, UK

I wonder if any of you, like me, are developing a inclination towards gardening due to sentimentality.

11 thoughts on “It’s Alive … Honoring The Gardener

  1. Elizabeth,
    Such lovely photos. No wonder you love it there. Hydrangeas grow like this where I am from in Western New York. But, my long line of farmer ancestors would blanch at my laughable desert garden. I’m a flop when it comes to gardening in Arizona. Your photos make me nostalgic for a place I’ve never been to… would love visiting your corner of the world! – Renee

    • I’ll bet the hydrangea bush would thrive in Western New York, Renee. Did I ever mention my time in Oswego New York? I imagine gardening in Arizona is best if you encourage what grows naturally. There’s so much beauty there. I’ve been to different parts of Arizona four or five times and I always enjoyed it.

      • Oswego – no you didn’t mention that that I recall. I almost went to school at SUNY Oswego. Went to Geneseo instead. Such a lovely part of the world. Geneseo had this lovely New England feel that so much of WNY did not… some of your photos of Cornwall remind me of Geneseo. They’ve done a great job to preserve main street – though a Walmart invaded a couple decades ago.

        • I went to SUNY Oswego for my freshman year and almost froze to death. I swore I would never live anywhere that had the snow and wind of that igloo by the lake and I never have.

  2. Elizabeth, I’m intrigued by your expression “gardening due to sentimentality”. I read a lot about gardening and have never run across that concept. It is wonderful. I will be considering it as I choose my plants this year. My garden will be different this year than other years because our neighbor cut down a huge tree which will now allow some sun in the yard. Very excited about the new challenge. I too used to think hydrangeas were kind of boring until I saw how vibrant they could be if handled right. Like the one in your post. Thanks for the post.
    PS my new post is on the Ban Bossy hoopla that was going on in US last week.

    • I’m not a natural gardener, Kathryn even though I really enjoy the work of others. That said, if I have an emotional connection to a type of plant or tree, I am more likely to be interested in digging in the dirt. I guess I lead with my heart in the garden in the same way I do in other areas of my life. :-)

  3. Your hydrangea may flower a much lighter color. It’s usually an addition of “blueing” that gets those deep tones. There may be enough natural minerals in your soil to color the flowers. Wait and see…
    As to sentimental gardening, a friend brought a tiny potted rose, about 4″ tall’ to my daughter’s first birthday party.almost thirty years ago. It graced our dining table for a while and then was planted outside in a pot. We moved twice, as it grew to clamber up the chimney and be photographed for a newspaper article on cub-appeal. At our next house, after 10 years, the climber had spread all along the fence and its roots had gone through the bottom of the half barrel in which it was planted. I left it behind when we left there. Sadly. It was a bit like a family member, and my English friend who gave it to me still asks after it.

    • I hope my hydrangea has the bluish purple flowers that it did in Mr T’s garden and I’ll be willing to work with the soil if it doesn’t. It must have been very hard to leave the climbing rose behind. I have one like that at my house in Atlanta. My daughter and I planted it on Mother’s day one year and it’s still growing along the white picket fence. Thanks for sharing that sweet memory.

  4. I have several hydrangeas, which seem to do well here in No. VA. Last year, I was motivated, after seeing some brilliant blue ones, to turn one of mine blue. So I sprinkled Espona Soil Acidifier on it. And indeed it worked. Here is an internet note about the topic: “To obtain a blue hydrangea, aluminum must be present in the soil. To ensure that aluminum is present, aluminum sulfate may be added to the soil around the hydrangeas.”
    As regards sentimental gardening: My Mom loved to garden. At one time she had a farm in Pennsylvania. Late in life, she lived in an apartment complex in Norfolk, VA. And she grew flowers all over that place. She found small (about 2 inches tall) saplings under Japanese maple trees at the nearby hospital and rooted them. I brought one home with me when it was about 18 inches tall. My brother has 3 or 4 in his yard still. Jim planted the one I brought home. Then we moved several years later and he dug it up at my request (then it was about 5 feet tall). Today it towers over my second story home. Mom passed away in 2012 at age 89. As you know, Jim passed away about three years ago. When I look at that tree, it brings lovely memories of both of them. Thanks for helping me remember.

    • Thanks so much for the hydrangea tips, Celia. I’m really set on duplicating the bluish-purple color it had when it was growing in my neighbor’s garden.

      I’m pleased too that my post reminded you of your sweet family memories and how your mother’s garden once grew. I particularly like thinking of how your husband’s tree relocation efforts made it possible for you to enjoy the changing seasons in the color of the leaves. Thanks for sharing such a tender story.

  5. All I can say, is yes yes yes! When I was growing up we had a honeysuckle bush in the front yard, and I loved to sit there for hours smelling and sipping the honey from the flowers. The man next-door put in a fence and they yanked out the honeysuckle from the border. My mom passed away not too long ago, and I still dream about having a honeysuckle bush in my yard someday. The scent and the shape of the flowers Bring me back to my childhood and remind me of her.

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