My mother's garden
From the time I can remember, my mother has always loved flowers…so no matter where we were, one of the first things she did in a new house was to get her plants settled in, and once we lived in the States, to plan her garden.
Well, plan is not exactly the right word. My mom is not into doing a great deal of planning, though she will designate certain areas for certain types of flowers – for example a flower bed under a tree where she would put in crocuses and tulips, another where she planned to have roses – once she even planted a fig tree! It never grew much but it did survive Virginia’s winters, and it did give figs, which we would pick, and with it and the leaves mom would make fig syrup – miel de higo – a specialty from her hometown of Santa Ana. Needless to say, figs are some of her favorite fruit! Because we often lived in rented houses, mom would also work with whatever the owners or the previous tenants had left in the garden – at one particular house we had a huge number of irises, and mint growing wildly in the back.
But the garden that I like the most and the one that I think is her pride and joy is her garden in El Salvador, at the house my parents bought in the 1970’s before the war erupted.
The garden has two levels, and the flagstones and the stairs are made from big pieces of slate from the volcano, brought to the house by one of my mother’s uncles, Calín. The rocks where the eucalyptus tree is and other crevices that are on the small mound that separates the two levels are also volcanic rock, I think they found it in what used to be a plain that lay covered for many years with ash and pyroclastic material from the last eruption of San Salvador’s volcano. As I child when we drove through there I imagined it was a sea of rocks and that strange flowers and animals lived and roamed among them. Now, more than thirty years later, that place is covered by grasses and small tees, though here and there you can still see outcroppings of the black volcanic rock.
The garden is very simple, really. All along its sides are flowers beds, and the middle is planted with grass. Like in most houses that have gardens in El Salvador, the garden is completely enclosed by a wall on three sides and the house on the fourth side. My mother has filled the flower beds (she also has containers with geraniums and succulents and begonias and anything else that pleases her) with roses, hydrangeas, coleus, hibiscus, begonias and bleeding hearts…on the walls she has orchids living on wood, as well as hanging from the eucalyptus tree, in addition to baskets of – I think they’re called burro’s tails here, we call them – well, mom calls them – guineítos. At one point she had a gardenia, but then she got bored with it and did away with it, which is too bad, because the scent of gardenia was just lovely.
On the mound separating the two levels she has planted azaleas – to my great surprise, I think it was because she loved them so much in Virginia, than when she and my dad moved back to El Salvador she was determined to have azaleas – I told her they wouldn’t bloom, they would never hibernate – and while that’s true, they actually DO flower, and they get HUGE, they become these big shrubs that rival the aloe vera in size – we also have that in the garden. And we do use it, for medicinal purposes, as we do the eucalyptus leaves.
The bottom garden has a cement turtle that is filled with water for the birds to come and drink, and a lemon tree and an orange tree, and bougainvillea and ivy along the wall. The remnants of a vegetable garden – my dad’s idea – can still be seen, though no one plants vegetables now. Once in a while my mom will plant a papaya seedling, and if it takes, we’ll have papayas for a while. I don’t think I can name all the plants my mom has in her garden – she told me her latest acquisition was a pink hydrangea (she already has a white one and a blue one) and of course her ever-changing collection of orchids. Most orchids in El Salvador grow wild, they grow on trees, and my mom is friends with a lady that lives out in the country, know only as the “Orchid Lady” who often stops by and sells my mom orchids. The only argument I have ever heard her have with this lady was over the fact that a promised orchid – I think it was a rare color, or something – turned out to be of the common variety. After that mom has insisted on seeing the orchids in flower before buying them!
I can’t imagine my mother without a garden, or without houseplants. They are a part of her. And without a doubt her deep love of plants and gardening has been passed on to me, as well as her respect for them. Though I don’t have as much patience as she does!
But in some ways this isn’t so unusual. Most people in El Salvador at the very least like plants, and people whether poor or rich will plant trees and flowers where things are barren. A good example of this are the people who buy these tiny houses – El Salvador’s attempt to create affordable housing and to relieve its ever-present housing shortage – which come on bare plots of earth baked by the sun. As soon as people move in they start planting trees and shrubs and within a few years, the landscape is almost unrecognizable. It’s what keeps us, I think, from becoming completely deforested – because as a society we are not great conservationists. But the climate and people’s natural inclination towards nature saves us a bit from ourselves and the folly of complete deforestation.
- 8 Apr, 2008
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