Small is Beautiful

My garden ideal is partly formed by my infatuation with Victorian chick lit and a couple of trips to Italy – not exactly attainable ideals – but is most shaped by the most beautiful garden I’ve ever known: my mom’s.  Over decades my parents turned their average suburban acre at the base of a gentle, boulder strewn hill into the kind of garden that ends up in garden books.  There were perennial beds and shrub boarders and a woodland walk and a formal potager. The last year they lived there, my little son leaped off the stone wall, hid behind old trees, and ran laps on the lawn, and I was reminded how wonderful the place was for kids.  But it wasn’t wonderful for people on the cusp of retirement, particularly when the snow fell and the walk needed shoveling.  So they moved, and we all grieved the loss of the garden and house we loved.

My parents are now living a hipster life in Providence (at least it seems a hipster life to me, suburban mom that I am) and they have built a new garden completely different from the old, but I think just as beautiful.  They have two gardens, or maybe even three, depending upon how one counts gardens.  The photo above is of the balcony garden, always blooming, always lush, and always visible through the living room, dining room, and study.  I don’t think many gardens have as much impact on the inside of a house as this new, tiny gem does on my parent’s place.

Mom’s second and third gardens are allotments in the community garden down the street, where my parents are growing, among the tomatoes and lettuce, dahlias:

I think mom grows as much food and many more flowers in her tiny gardens than I do on my bigger one.  I’ve always learned from my mom’s gardening, and I think I imagined that somehow I would cease learning when she gave up her large garden.  I haven’t though – her garden keeps growing, she keeps teaching, and I keep learning.  What I’ve learned this past year, watching Mom, is humbling stuff: how a master gardener like her really is in a different league than a beginner like me; that community gardening is a soul enriching thing; and that small is truly and utterly beautiful.  Of course I still miss the old garden, and I know she does, too.  We’ll probably all miss it forever, in the way I miss my grandmother who died not long ago – with a mix of sadness and sweetness and love.  The new gardens, though, are offshoots of the old, just as my son is an offshoot of the great grandmother he never knew – generations unceasing, watered with love.

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