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A Measure of Respect

My Mama - Vivian Price Barton - Thanksgiving 2012

My Mama turned 90 today.

I will go to the family birthday party tomorrow rearranged for a Saturday so that the working folks can attend.

But… today on her actual birthday, I’ve been remembering Mama’s flowers, her tomatoes, the compost, the daffodils and how gardening became a passion that we shared.

You see, I come from a long line of gardeners but was too lazy to be one when I was young.  I craved the escape and chose to bury my nose in a book.

Meanwhile Mama and Sister, her elder sibling, planted flowers in the beds in the baking western exposure in front of the house.  

There were flowers along the south side of the house and in the back yard.  

The damp dark north side of the house was adorned with mophead hydrangeas.  

She begged sprigs from everyone she knew and established a lush St. Augustine lawn.  We had roses and a ‘Festiva Maxima’ peony from the old home place.  Mama seeded cutting zinnias every year and in her later years became obsessed with growing butterfly weed and black eyed Susans.

These flowers were never referred to as the “garden” though.  The “garden” was our food plot in the back yard.  And as much as Mama loved her flowers, she loved her tomatoes even more.

I grew up and went to college in my home town.  I lollygagged around in the College of Liberal Arts for a while but when all was said and done I graduated with a Horticulture degree.

In the years that followed I thought I knew everything about plants and my Mama thought I knew nothing.  It didn’t help matters that my Mama lived on the busiest street in my small home town.  So my friends were always marveling at her colorful plantings as they drove past.

She was legendary in our little town and often referred to by those who did not know her as “the lady on Jackson Street who grows such pretty flowers”.

I doggedly tried to teach her things that I had learned in college and from my motley crowd of plant buds.  I witnessed to her about composting and about antique roses, about wildflowers and my favorite daffodils.

One day she said to me “I wish someone had told me years ago that you could take leaves and make dirt.”  I think that was as close to an apology as I ever heard from her.   I had convinced her to make compost and she loved it!

And so we came to a sort of truce – she offered me a grudging measure of respect for a while.  At least until the fateful day that I took too many cuttings off her giant ‘Tuscan Blue’ rosemary and killed it.

But meanwhile – I had learned to cut her some slack.  Because, you see, I tried my hand at gardening in the heavy mucky black belt prairie soils that Starkville had to offer.

My attempts were pathetic and I realized the level of knowledge and extreme perseverence it had taken for her to grow those flowers in inhospitable clay and baking western Mississippi sun.

So even though I had killed her ‘Tuscan Blue’ rosemary she respected me for introducing her to ‘Mr. Lincoln’ her favorite rose.

We shared daffodil bulbs and she reminded me that I had first encountered black eyed Susans as we drove  the dusty gravel roads  to her old home place.  Maybe that’s when she planted the seed that led me to the green world.

Tomorrow I will go to see her on the day after her birthday and I will bring the biggest boldest most fragrant daffodil bouquet that I can muster.

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