On my last morning in Oxford, I was the only guest at the B&B, which meant I had the undivided attention of my hostess Sylvia as she brought me breakfast. We started talking and I learned she was originally from Mexico but had been living in England for nearly 40 years. She had a son about my age, also living in London. It was clear she loved him and was proud of him, if also perplexed by why he would give up a stable career as a graphic designer in favour of starting an art gallery.
Somehow we got started on plants. Her windows were full of a homely assortment of leggy geraniums, tiny cacti, and blooming orchids. She told me how her son teased her about her little collection, but how gardening was also something that connected them. She said his flat is full of houseplants and fairly beamed with pride as she told me how once he had sent her a card letting her know that he loved plants and gardening thanks to her and what she had taught him.
I couldn’t help thinking of my own mother and the heritage of houseplants and gardening that she has passed on to me. How my childhood is full of memories of geraniums and petunias and zinnias and dahlias; how my aspiration to have flower boxes in my windows dates back to when I was probably 8 or 9 first seeing pictures of flower boxes in the albums she had brought back from her college days in Germany; how the shamrock (which is actually an oxalis) accompanied us through every move and now sits on my own countertop; how I would steal her Better Homes & Gardens and pore over the pages to see what I liked and didn’t like; how she let me have a little gravelly corner of the garden in La Grande where I could attempt to grow herbs and flowers of my own; and how my first purchases in the nursery were of exciting new plants (artemisia and butterfly bush!) that I picked out just for her.
I shared some of this with Sylvia,and we bonded for a moment. I was touched by her connection with her son, and I was grateful for my own mother and the things I’ve learned from her about plants and the connection that I feel to her when tending plants of my own.