Coming Full Circle
After moving into my home more than a decade ago, I befriended an elderly couple a few houses down. The man had Alzheimer’s disease, so I often heard the same stories from him when I stopped in. He had many interesting adventures to tell me about, but his favorite to recount was the tale of his beloved peonies.
Kris Gold's neighbor went the extra mile to rescue his favorite peonies before demolition of the home and yard. Photo by Adobe Stock/alexphoto1293.
Long before I arrived to the area, there was a small neighborhood built at the bottom of our hill, near the river. My neighbor lived there as a young man, and every year, he’d forage for mushrooms near the river. On his way home, he’d pass a patch of peonies in someone’s yard that he admired.
Years later, after he’d moved to his new home at the top of the hill, the neighborhood was set for demolition to make way for the construction of a floodwall and levy. Before all the houses were destroyed, he rescued the peonies and transplanted them to the top of the hill.
He has since passed, and I miss hearing him tell this story. The peonies still live in his wife’s yard, where they’ve been for almost 30 years. She was kind enough to allow me to dig up one of the peonies from her yard to bring to my own home shortly after his passing.
My other neighbor, who overlooks my side of the house where the peonies are, once asked me about the flowers. When I told her about their perilous journey from the bottom of the hill, she was tickled to inform me that the original peonies my late neighbor had rescued had come from her mother’s garden of all places! She was sure of it, since her mother was the only one living in that area who grew peonies.
I’ve had them growing in my yard now for a few years, and they mean more to me than ever. I’m a transplant myself — I lived all around the country before finally landing in Kentucky. Knowing the intricate history of my peonies makes me feel connected to them, and to my neighbor who saved them.
I care for a cutting from an Easter cactus that’s been in my family as long as I can remember. When I was just a girl, my mother brought a little branch of this plant home from a road trip to visit my grandmother. It bloomed beautifully every year for my mom. Many members of our family received pieces of the plant from our original, and we’ve continued sharing starts of it. We’ve shared so many starts from that original plant that I’ve lost track of how many people hold a piece.
My piece has almost died on me a few times, but after each scare, it springs back more beautiful than ever. One time, I overwatered it, and the roots began to rot. Panicking, I replanted the branches, and it forgave me with fresh blossoms.
I love this plant because it reminds me of two of the most important women in my life: my grandmother and my mother. My grandmother loved to grow plants, and was responsible for bestowing the original cactus cutting upon my mother. Meanwhile, my mother took the small sprout given to her and cared for it until it practically filled an entire room on its own. Each of these women nurtured this plant, and in return, the Easter cactus would show us its glory in spring.
Now in my retirement, I continue to care for my sweet plant that floods me with family memories. I treasure it even more this year, since my Mom passed away last December, at the age of 90. I continue to pass it on to friends and family, encouraging each person to share their plant with their loved ones in return.
Restoring Precious Roses
My mother believed that you should never press a flower you truly love. She always told me, “Don’t press it! When will you look at it again tucked away in a book? Make it grow! Enjoy its beauty as a living flower, not as a withered keepsake.”
Instead, Mom had a special process of preserving roses: She cut the bottom at an angle with a pair of scissors, wrapped the bottom in a dampened paper towel, and placed it in a plastic bag to keep it moist. While she was doing this, I’d run to the pantry to get a quart jar.
We then headed to her hardy lilac bush. She dug a hole in the dirt with her hands and placed the rose cutting in the hole. We carefully packed the dirt around the rose, before placing the glass jar over the rose and firmly twisting it into the ground.
Mom was shameless when it came to asking for a rose from someone’s front yard or garden, but no one ever refused her request. One summer day, my mom chatted with our neighbor, Dorothy, and was stunned by one of Dorothy’s rose bushes.
My mother immediately asked to steal a rose for her collection. She explained that she’d never seen such a beautiful lavender rose that blended into silver at the edge of the petals. Proud of her special lavender rose bush, Dorothy was delighted to cut the rose and graciously hand it to my mother. That night, it joined the others under the lilac bush, protected under its very own glass jar.
That Christmas, Dorothy told us that her beautiful lavender rose bush had been stricken by disease and couldn’t be saved. It was her favorite rose bush, and she hadn’t been able to find another to replace it.
When the fear of frost was gone, my mom uncovered the lavender rose clipping. She spied a baby shoot, a tiny leaf peeking its way through the stem. Fortunately, the lavender rose had survived the winter.
I’ve never seen my mother so excited about a particular rose. She then let me in on a little secret: She was going to gift the rose to Dorothy. Sure enough, that summer, Dorothy cried with joy as she received a healthy new lavender rose bush. On the card was the following:
Here’s a small gift from my garden to you.
It began the day someone gave me a rose, too.
I planted that rose in the good, warm earth,
And I nurtured it — hence its rebirth.
After you’ve planted this gift and it grows,
To keep up the cycle, may I impose?
If I may be bold, do you suppose,
That I might request its very first rose?
Georgia A. Hubley
To this day, no one in my family is sure of the species of our family heirloom, but it’s been passed down through my family since my great-grandma Sarah L. Hicks acquired the original. Born in 1891, she had seven daughters. As each of her daughters came of age and married, it was her tradition to send a start with them to grow as our family grew.
When one of her daughters, my great-aunt Flo, passed away in 1999, my Mom received her start. She continued to grow and care for the plant, and when my sister and I were old enough, our family continued the tradition of passing down pieces of the plant, with my mother giving us each our own cutting. I decided to spread my plant even further, sharing my start with my cousin. I also plan to pass on starts to the daughters of my other cousins once they’re older and ready to care for it. I’d like to keep this tradition alive for as long as possible, and hopefully after I’m gone, it will carry on through my own children.
For almost every member of the family, this grass-looking plant occasionally bursts forth with several gorgeous pink flowers, but I haven’t been as lucky. My start has never flowered for me, though the pieces that I’ve shared with my family members have all bloomed abundantly. I’m often teased for having a plant that refuses to bloom, but I’m content just being the keeper of this precious family heirloom.
Valley Head, West Virginia
Luckily, editors Jordan Moslowski and Russell Mullin were able to help Carolyn learn the species of her mystery heirloom. Their research led them to the pink rain lily (Zephyranthes carinata), a perennial native to Mexico, Columbia, and other Central American countries. Photo by Adobe Stock/tuelekza.