The earliest garden memory I have is when my mother knelt near her wildflower garden, took my 5-year-old hand in hers and outlined a small flower that she called "Dutchman's Breeches."
She was reading "Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates" to me each night at the time. I was fascinated by the flower shaped like the pants worn by Hans. Later, she showed me Shooting Stars and Rue Anemones and I was hooked on plants, though I didn't know it then.
Many years later, with a husband, a home and a 5-year-old of my own, I looked at our almost bare yard and thought I would like to have a wildflower garden.
When I visited my mother in the Missouri Ozarks, she dug slips of her wildflower collection and packed them carefully for me. I transplanted them into what was to become a half-acre woodland wildflower garden in New Jersey.
When Larry and I moved to Hilton Head Island, I brought many wildflower transplants with me, the offshoots of Mother's gifts. Despite loving care, they did not live.
Knowing that the yard where we were going to live would be without rocks, we brought large and small Pocono Mountain stones from my New Jersey wildflower rock garden. When I visited my parents in Missouri, Mother gave me some of her river rocks to add to my collection.
Mother is gone now. I talk to her when I tend my garden.
One day, while moving a Missouri riverbed rock, with its dimpled, craggy surface; I discovered a tiny Columbine plant that had sprouted from a seed from one of her plants.
I remember the last time we were together. She was sitting on the ground near a bed of Hepatica, pulling out persistent plants of Bouncing Bet that were taking over the garden. After she had finished weeding, I helped her to her feet. She was annoyed that at the age of 89 she was somewhat curtailed in her gardening by an inability to get up and down easily.
On that long-ago evening, as I walked around her yard, I noted that the vast lawns in her almost 2-acre yard had shrunk since my childhood, yielding to more gardens.
After my father died, someone came in to mow the grass, but my mother continued to tend the gardens. There must have been 1,000 plant varieties, and she knew the names of all. I admired the tulips that were then in flower and recalled that she'd told me the preceding autumn that she was ordering more than 100 spring flowering bulbs. I thought then how extraordinary that at her age she was looking forward to future years filled with flowers.
Gardeners are like that, I think. No matter our age, there is always the next season to plan for and to hope to live to see.
Since living on Hilton Head, I've met and talked with hundreds of gardeners -- men and women -- and I've discovered that many have a strong link to their mother or, sometimes, to their father. I've both parents to thank for my garden gene. They were passionate early environmentalists; mother was active in Missouri conservation, my father in the preservation of wooded land.
While my mother was still living, several acres were planted with pine trees and dedicated to her. I hasten to add, pines are not prolific in Missouri, the pineland forest was a rare sight to see.
My parents had a fenced-in yard to keep the cattle out. I thought of that this past week when I discovered we'd been invaded by deer who ate to the ground an 8-foot golden rain tree raised from seed, and a tongue-oil-tree that I'd bought.
May the New Year give us sunny days in January, rainy days in July, and plants that bloom in the garden to remind us how fortunate we are to live where we have something flowering all year long.