There are a few numbers that have been indelibly burned in memory. My social security number (to the amazement of my daughter) and my childhood telephone number, Woodbine 7-5109. Where I was raised, the phone numbers had the names of trees, shrubs and flowers. Ours was the woodbine, a shrubby vine in the honeysuckle family. Perfect for my mother, a city girl and inveterate gardener. Growing up, I watched her fearlessly prune climbing roses, snip boughs from fragrant cherry trees, plant a mountain of snow and tend her favorite plant, the cascading candytuft. And oh yes, we had honeysuckle growing wild around our patio. Our house, with the red wall phone hung in our kitchen, would ultimately shape how I view any home where I might choose to live.
That split-level house, on a street with many others just like it, nestled in my heart and took root there. I carried it to Manhattan, to my first tiny apartment, (where I had a small garden on a terrace.) After I got married, that split level settled in with me and my new husband to a loft in Brooklyn, then to a first house and finally the place I called home: this house where we raised our daughter and where I still live after 22 years. Our farmhouse holds in its walls all my dreams, my oversized dinner table, my laughing fits, my daughters christening gown and tiny cap (stitched by me), my rivers of tears, my paintings, all my shoes and yes, my gardens. I am my mother’s daughter. My gardens are wild and unruly. Roses, hyacinths, daisies, phlox, hydrangea, and coreopsis … anything that strikes my fancy on the first warm days of June finds a home in one of the beds.
When my husband passed away unexpectedly four years ago, I took solace in the soil. He loved flowers too—each year for Mother’s Day, he bought me a flowering tree. A rare lemon colored magnolia is my favorite. I decided to make a garden for him, a “Tommy” garden, full of his favorite blooms. It goes from last frost of March to first in December and it’s full of birds and butterflies. It’s the garden closest to the house, (and my heart)- right off the kitchen. Now with my child at college and just me here, my house is truly empty. Just the gardens and me. When the vernal equinox occurs, my gardens awaken and I do too. My Carolina wrens return every year, their birdsong like a flute found in the woods. I’ve got two houses in my heart. My split-level and my farmhouse. And when I am alone in this rambling place, sometimes I contemplate a new house, a new place, a new life. But something holds me back. Like my purplish blue clematis, I have taken root here. Right now it is too hard to leave. When I listen to my heart, it says, “not yet”…just one more season. So I stay, with my wrens and my buttery magnolia. Wherever I go, I’ll have to have a patch of garden soil. Just to make it a home.