Growing in grandma's garden

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IN my garden my small daughter, Laurel, stretches out her arms to the tall foxgloves and gravely speaks to them in her language of liquid coos and burbles. Beside us my son, Garth, is planting string beans and nasturtiums. Tuck them in real firm now, I caution. They like to sleep tight. He smiles and keeps planting, and I hear in my mind my grandmother's voice saying those same words as she pressed a few hard brown seeds into my hand. These seeds would be sweet peas, those flowers like butterflies, she ass ured me. But for now I must tuck them in real firm. Oh, my grandmother's garden, that place of magic and paradise where there was always some new delight. Those sweet peas in their season with their fragrance good as cakes and their mysterious tendrils: How did they know how to hold on and climb so high? And later the wide funnels of the sky-bright morning glories, each with its white-starred throat. The morning glories grew by the front porch and were faithfully replanted year after year. You can't have a garden without morning glories, my grandmother w ould say, and she'd show me how they unfurled like little parasols to greet each new day.

And there were hollyhocks in red and white and yellow and pink, a whole forest of hollyhocks. From these she made me dolls with hoop skirts. Better than silk or satin were those petal skirts. The half open buds, with a thread strung through them, made the finest jewels -- earrings looped over my ears, necklaces of rubies. Single hollyhocks they were, simple flowers not frilled and doubled. And there were magic lilies. In late summer, out of nowhere, up came thick stalks and scented pink bells. Naked lad ies, my grandmother called them. Their stems were as thick as my arm then, and they seemed to grow as I watched them.

I spent a lot of time watching things in that garden; my grandmother held that children grew well in gardens. I'd sit high in the old walnut tree or under the apricot (those apricots -- I have never found any so good). I'd watch the leaves of the pink oxalis fold up at night, or sit by the tomatoes inhaling their strong strange smell, touching the sticky tomato leaves. Or sniffing the petunias' fragrance of vanilla pudding and spice cookies: The petals rushed all at once to ver your nose as you led; then you'd blow out like a horse and they would be back in place good as new. There were always petunias, usually pink ones, along the front walk. Often there were poppies there as well, fragile flowers with their saltshaker seed pods. Except one year there were turnips instead, neatly planted with the petunias, and poppies with the tomatoes -- my grandmother had mixed up her carefully stored jars of seed, and she laughed about it for years afterward.

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There was laughter in that garden, and sweetness; honeysuckle flowers she taught me to suck nectar from, strawberries to eat, honey-scented allysum, and a few treasured roses. There was a fir tree my father said he'd planted as a boy. Now it towered almost to touch the clouds. Geraniums and mint, pale blue plumbago, pansies with faces. There was space for dreams there; good corners to curl up and read in and places to watch the clouds change shape in the sky.

Years ago my grandmother's house was sold, and the garden turned into a parking lot. But really that garden has continued to bloom and grow always.

If you were here with me, as my Laurel talks now to a rosebush and my son searches for ripe strawberries, I would show you my grandmother's garden. It has changed a lot, of course; she never grew foxgloves or blue love-in-a-mist, though I think she would admire them; and I, with my love of herbs, have planted many unfamiliar sweet and bitter plants that would have interested and surprised her. But there are the hollyhocks plain and bright, and the small oxalis. Over there the butterfly sweet peas are cl imbing, and here are the naked ladies, just starting their growth.

I always grow my turnips and tomatoes and flowers all mixed up together; my grandmother would laugh and shake her head. And the morning glories open their joyful blooms. My daughter loves to talk to them; my son prefers the night-blooming moonflowers that he can watch unfurl. And there are corners and surprises. My son climbs the forest madronas and oaks; we have no walnut tree. But he tucks the seeds in nice and firm: growing with his sister, as I did, in the heart of my grandmother's garden.

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