My grandmother’s health took a downturn when she was in her forties, and the doctor ordered her to bed for almost six months. Dear Grandfather was beside himself. My mother took over many of the household duties and swore that was why she was such a good cook. But my poor grandfather felt helpless.
“What can I do?” he would plead, but there seemed to be nothing to do but what he was already doing.
Then one day he had an idea.
My mother was looking out the back door when Grandfather creaked open the metal arched gate to the back yard with a gorgeous pale yellow jasmine plant in his arms.
“Where’re you gonna put it?” My mother asked.
“Outside your mother’s window, so she can smell it all day long.”
He placed it just so, asking Grandmother if she could see it better here or there – sort of like an optometrist appointment. And after a half hour’s work and many anguished questions through the screen from my grandmother, the jasmine stood tall, proud, staked and fertilized just outside her window. She enjoyed the scent that came in on the breeze and the beautiful blossoms. Grandmother always swore it helped her recover.
This success went to my grandfather’s head. He had discovered a way to satisfy a very basic human need – the need for beauty. He was on a roll. Every bedroom – all two of them – had to have something sweet-smelling outside the windows. For my mother and father’s room, it was honeysuckle. What heaven! Then he attacked every other window in our little house, digging and planting and rearranging and paying visits to the neighbors to see if they would mind letting him have a cutting from an admired plant. He became a regular at the nursery. If “frequent shopper” rewards had existed back then, he would have been able to buy a new car.
He moved past the search for intoxicating scents and on to the aesthetics of gardening. Every window smelled good; now it had to have a beautiful view. More huffing and puffing and planting ensued. When my grandmother was up and around again, she decided that what was inside could help what was outside. To accent the yellow-blooming jasmine, she brought in yellow and white flowers with a long trail of ivy and put them in a milk-glass vase by the window to tie the two together.
Under the front windows was a stand of hydrangea. These she doctored with vinegar or lime to change the acidity of the soil and thereby the color of the blooms. As time went on, she had a multicolored group of the loveliest flowers in the neighborhood. And she could enjoy them from the kitchen window.
Their philosophy of gardening and decorating hinged on a deep-rooted love of nature that came from living in quiet country places blessed with lush vegetation, fresh air and abundant wildlife. Growing up in a naturally beautiful environment gave them sights into beauty that otherwise could take many years to learn.
I still think of my childhood home and the example set for me there, and at my own home there is something I love to see outside every window but one.
I’m working on it….
Modern methods of changing hydrangea color can be found at Gardenista.
Better Homes and Gardens has lovely ideas for planting window boxes.
Southern Living has a great list of the best spring flowers to plant.
For windowsill gardens, Better Homes and Gardens has good ideas on that, too.
For color theory in flower gardening, take a peek at House and Garden Television.
Text copyright ©Jill Teresa Farmer, 2015