Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A family history through plants

My father's illness has made me ever more aware that I am the last of my family and that everything we've created, built, made or done will matter little after I quit the mortal coil.

That's a difficult reality to face.

The thing I find myself mourning most is the garden.

We get the gardening from my mother's side. Direct ancestors came to NE Ohio from England to work on the Severance estate as gardeners, and we have spectacular pictures of them on handmade grapevine furniture in an outdoor living room.

Gardening remained a deep thread through over the years. My grandfather was the son of a family with orchards. My great-grandmother died when at age 88, she was carrying 50 lbs of canning equipment to the basement to get started for winter.

Growing up, we always had a garden, and I only understand now how extraordinary their commitment was. As I help my father in garden now, he tells me the history of almost every plant:
*the boxwood they bought in Ontario when I was in high school - all the bushes around the house came from two plants.
*the privet hedge that he cultivated from cuttings made illegally from the old rose garden at the beach (only the truly passionate would sneak into a park after sunset to cut privet hedge)
*the lilac volunteer that I took from the backyard of the florist's who hired me through college - it's still in a pot, 4 foot tall, and waiting for me to set my roots so it too can be planted, once and for all.
*the rose bush that was Grandma Margie's, then planted at The Pink House in Berlin Heights, that they managed to get from current owners before they tore out the old landscaping.
*the red honeysuckle they bought in Vermont when I spent two summers working there

Tree after bush after flower represents trips taken or milestones met - many have seen four generations of my family - it's like the plants ARE the family.

So I feel a bit guilty for being the last one -

Otto Schoepfle solved his dilemma by leaving his well-curated land to the Lorain County Metroparks, but this is a house on a street in an outer ring suburb...

And I need to figure out how these plants and their stories can live on beyond the lives of those that tended to them.

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