In addition to growing my family tree, I’m also a gardening enthusiast. OK, maybe that’s a bit of an understatement. I’m a gardening freak. It is my sanctuary, my dirt therapy, and the place I get my best brainstorming done. I love growing heirloom tomatoes and peppers and have a good selection, as well as Japanese eggplant, cucumbers, zucchini, onions, chard, lettuce, and a wide variety of herbs in my garden.
And then there are the flowers.
I love my flowers. And certain plants evoke memories of family. I remember the marigolds that did so well in the house I grew up in and the peonies that bloomed every year. I remember having my picture taken with the huge blooms on my 8th grade graduation. My mom taught me to leave the big ants alone on the peonies because they help the buds to open.
But perhaps my favorites are the irises. When we were young we used to take vacations to Texas to see my mom’s family. They had a cabin in Riudoso, New Mexico. I loved the few visits we had to the cabin. Although we didn’t stay, I can remember the wonderful smell of pine and the thick layer of needles all around the cabin. On one trip, my mother harvested some irises that needed separating and we brought them home and planted them. The blooms don’t last nearly long enough for me, but for that short time, they are gorgeous. I’ve planted several varieties at my home now and they still bring back memories of Riudoso, even though I never saw them bloom there.
My paternal grandmother was a gardener too, and I must have gotten at least some of my gardening genes from her Polish side. When I’d see her in the summer she would always compare her gardening tan to mine and despite the fact that I spent tons of time outside, she always had the better tan. Her favorite flower was an inside plant though. She had beautiful African violets in her house and she taught me that “they don’t like to get their feet wet,” so I should never over-water or get water on the leaves.
She, in turn, inherited that love of flowers from her mom. In an interview that my mother recorded of my grandmother in 1992, my mom asked her what she remembered of her mother who died when Grandma was only ten and a half.
“She was very good to us. She never went anywhere – nor did my father – never went anywhere without bringing us a bag of candy and hugging us and kissing us. And our mother loved flowers – oh, did she love flowers. And she loved oleanders, and as a surprise, my father got her two. On the porch we had two wash tubs, like this, and one pink and one white oleander. And my father says when they stopped blooming that something’s going to happen. And when they stopped blooming, my mother died.”
While they might perceived as “just decoration,” the look, scent, and traditions of flowers and plants evoke strong memories.
Now it’s your turn. The scent of my neighbor’s lily of the valley remind her of her mother and every spring she takes a bouquet to the cemetery. Do you have a ritual like that? Did you have a gardener in your family? What was their favorite thing to plant? Did you have a garden growing up? What plants were around your house? What is your favorite plant and why? Do you have any plants that have been passed down through your family? After this past winter, we deserve a trip down memory lane—decked in our favorite flower stories.
About Juliana Smith
Juliana Szucs Smith has been working for Ancestry.com for more than 16 years. She began her family history journey trolling through microfilms with her mother at the age of 11. She has written many articles for online and print genealogical publications and wrote the "Computers and Technology" chapter of The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy. Juliana holds a certificate from Boston University's Online Genealogical Research Program, and is currently on the clock working towards certification from the Board for Certification of Genealogists.