The honeysuckle cascading over my fence reminds me of my Missouri grandmother. Red geraniums paired with asparagus ferns transport me to my Iowa grandmother's screened-in porch. And an open Peace rose in a pewter bud vase takes me back to my mother's kitchen table.
I am not a gardener who selects bedding plants to coordinate with the sand-colored brick on my house. The colorful perennial beds in neighbors' yards don't tempt me.
I am a sentimental gardener.
The plants that lure me at open-air nurseries are those that stir memories of several generations of my family who found nourishment and pleasure from digging in the dirt.
I remember kitchen gardens filled with cucumbers for turning into home-canned bread-and-butter pickles, and tomatoes and peppers that often ended up in relish. Hollyhocks, sweet peas, and clumps of black-eyed Susans brightened these practical patches.
As a child, I spent hours playing on my grandmother's front steps flanked by "snowball bushes." I remember by coaxing a thirsty hydrangea through the sweltering Texas summer. Honeysuckle vines on my fence go untrimmed so I can offer my children the food of butterflies. "Pluck a honeysuckle bloom and bite its tiny tip for a taste of sweet nectar," my grandmother taught me.
Miniature waterlilies in a half-barrel water garden remind me of my mother's favorite flower. She admired lilies in the backyard pond, but preferred to drop a fishing line among their sunken stems. She grew up on the Mississippi River and was legendary for her ability to catch fish in the river's quiet sloughs.
My azalea bush brings a smile when I think of my dad's determination. He refuses to believe that azaleas are too sensitive for his Midwestern climate. Instead, he treats them as annuals and replants each spring.
I'm trying something new this spring – sweet peas. Their blooms brightened my grandmother's kitchen all summer. I planted the seeds in February, and now they're tall enough to begin climbing the tomato cages I'm using as trellises.
In a few weeks, I'm counting on a bouquet for my kitchen table.