A Mother's Day garden story

A fire doesn't deter a mother's love and devotion, a gardener discovers.

Courtesy of Denise Schreiber
Mama Goose sits on her nest filed with six eggs. She stayed on the nest even though a big nearby fire rained soot and char on her.
Courtesy of Denise Schreiber
The fire raged for four hours before being brought under control.It completely destroyed the greenhouses.
Courtesy of Denise Schreiber
The little Canada geese grew steadily after their birth on Mother's Day.
Courtesy of Courtney Celley/U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Canada geese mate for life. They line their nests -- built of grasses, bark, and twigs -- with soft feathers.

I work in a park filled with flowers, trees, and assorted wildlife including pesky Canada geese. While they are an anathema to most people, there is one particular pair of geese that I welcome every year.

To understand why, rewind to spring of 2009. I was recovering from a minor car accident in the middle of April. Working in a greenhouse has a healing effect like no other even though it’s hard work, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Every day at lunchtime we would go out and peek at the nest the geese had made about 20 feet from the greenhouse, nestled into a bit of hillside with the pond just a waddle away. [See first photo at top.]

The young goose family

Mama and Pops, as we referred to them, were a young couple who decided to make their first home with us. Pops was busy chasing off any possible intruders including the resident cat, who was more curious than aggressive.

Mama would occasionally get up and rearrange an egg and fluff her feather so we could count that there would be six babies to join them. They were a happy expecting couple.

Locking up for the day on May 1, Scott, my co-worker, and I were doing our last walk through making sure everything was watered. We stopped to look at the Supertunias 'Giant Pink,' which is such a vigorous grower but had always been a bit leggy for us because of the rapid growth.

That year we decided to pinch them back three times instead of the usual two, and we remarked that we finally got it right and they looked magnificent. In fact the entire greenhouse looked fabulous.

The unexpected happens

Then, at 6 p.m. I got a phone call from Scott telling me to sit down. The greenhouses were gone. The office was gone. Our van had exploded and was destroyed.

I thought it was a bad joke but after a few moments I realized it wasn’t. He came and picked me up, and we went to work. Smoke in the sky could be seen for miles. We were numb with disbelief. We watched it burn for four hours before it was under control.

Everything was gone. Everyone tells you that it was just a greenhouse and no one was hurt, but in reality, we were devastated because this was an extension of our lives. [See second photo above; click on the arrow at the right base of the first photo.]

The next morning we came back to the charred ruins of the greenhouse. Little mounds of dirt lay on the floor reminding us of all the plants that we had cared for were now dead. Because the fire was so hot, the aluminum ribs of the greenhouse melted like little Hershey kisses on the concrete.

We walked to the edge and, lo and behold, Mama was still sitting on her nest, covered in soot and char. Pops was still swimming in the pond defending his family!

Six goslings born on Mother's Day

Just a week later, we had something else to celebrate. Six little goslings were being tended to by their parents, born on Mother’s Day. It was good to have something to smile about. We watched them daily, learning how to swim, eat bugs and grass.

One special one we nicknamed Junior. He was the curious one, always wandering away from the flock, with Pops constantly prodding him to rejoin the family. We were worried that Junior might not grow up if he didn’t listen to Pops.

The goose family was a reason to come to work as we picked through the rubble for the insurance company. [See third photo above.]

One month later, my mother died suddenly, and I became an adult orphan, my father having died while I was in high school. She had lived with us for 20 years, helping care for our daughter while we worked,and had tended the garden that we had in the backyard, like her father before her.

She had wanted to die in her garden as did her father and grandfather. We had planted it just a couple of weeks before, as we did every spring making sure we included the cherry tomatoes she loved to eat while in the garden and plenty of basil and parsley for drying for the winter to use in her spaghetti sauce.

Going back to work was hard for me, but Mama and Pops and the brood were still there, even Junior. Watching Mama with her family reminded me that a mother’s love will endure through anything.

Mama and Pops are back again this year and we hope that Mother’s Day brings us a gift.


Denise Schreiber is the Mrs. Know It All of “The Organic Gardeners” on KDKA Radio and “Ask the Expert” for Pennsylvania Gardener magazine. Her new book, "Eat Your Roses," will be published soon. Click here to read her previous articles at Diggin' It.

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