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In Memoriam: Fragrant Flowers for My Mother

August 4, 2010

Unidentified pink peony from my mother's garden (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) Last week, my mother’s spirit was finally released from the prison that a brain tumor had made of her body. In the days since, my thoughts have naturally turned to her influences on me, and I have considered how she shaped my gardener self.

I can’t say that I learned to garden from my mother. Try as I might, I can’t conjure up a single image of her working in the dirt with a trowel or garden fork; those tasks were my father’s province. What she did impart to me was a love of flowers. And what she loved most were fragrant flowers, which she often cut to bring into the house.

Lilacs blooming at the McLaughlin Garden in South Paris, Maine (photo credit: Jean Potuchek)The first fragrant flowers that I associate with my mother are lilacs. The first-floor apartment that we lived in for much of my childhood had a large clump of old-fashioned lilacs (Syringa vulgaris) growing outside my parents’ bedroom window, and each May my mother would fill the house with vases of cut lilacs. When we moved to a single-family house in the late 1950s, my mother asked my father to plant a lilac just outside the kitchen window. Although it took a number of years for this shrub to get established and bloom reliably, it eventually provided my mother with a bounty of lilacs each May. In the 1990s, when my parents decided that the house had become too much for them and moved to a mobile home park, I’m pretty sure that the large lilac growing outside the bedroom window swayed my mother’s decision about which mobile home to buy. For more than a decade, when my parents spent winters in Florida, the lilacs became a source of contention; my father wanted to stay in Florida until late May, but my mother was determined to be home in time to see (and smell) the lilacs.

Unknown white peony from my mother's garden (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) When my parents moved to the mobile home, my mother discovered a new fragrant flower love. A previous owner had planted peonies along a walkway leading from the porch to the back of the property. What a delight it was to have these flowers that bloomed after the lilacs were done, that filled the house with an equally lovely fragrance, and that lasted much longer as cut flowers than lilacs do. Happily, because I took divisions of my mother’s peonies last fall (see Peony Lesson), I now have these wonderfully fragrant flowers growing in my own garden where they will be a special reminder of my mother each June.

My mother's Casablanca lily in bloom (photo credit: Bob Maigret) I was responsible for the next fragrant flower that my mother fell in love with. We both discovered the huge sensual flowers of the ‘Casablanca’ oriental lily when we visited a nursery together one summer. The following year, I gave her one as a gift (see My Mother’s Lily). As the Casablanca lily became larger and more impressive each year, and both my mother’s neighbors and complete strangers stopped by to look at it (and, of course, to smell it), she became more and more enamored of it. This was not a flower to cut for the house – but it didn’t matter, because its scent filled up the whole property. When my brother and I went to the florist last week to choose flowers for my mother’s funeral, I made a special request that Casablanca lilies be included.

The one fragrant flower my mother always wanted to have but couldn’t grow successfully was lavender, despite several attempts to add it to her garden. The first time, I planted it in a sunny spot at the corner of the shed (where the Casablanca lily now reigns). A few years later, when I created a new garden for my mother to fill the space where a large tree had come crashing down during a winter storm, I included lavender and made a special effort to provide a welcoming home for it (adding both sand and wood ash to the soil). But the lavender was never happy. Each year, I would replace the lavender plants, trying different varieties and different nursery sources and making various attempts to encourage them; but not one of them ever survived for a second year. Eventually, we gave up and my mother had to make do with the lavender soap, shampoo and body wash that provided a way for her to luxuriate in this scent during her long year in the nursing home.

Gardens and gardening provided a special focus for my visits to my mother during the last year of her life. Last summer, when she still owned the mobile home, I would cut flowers from her garden and bring them to her. She would often ask me what was happening in my garden, and she enjoyed the photos from my Jean’s Garden calendar (see A Year of Gifts from the Garden), which we hung on her bulletin board. Whenever she was well enough and the weather cooperated, I would take her out into the gardens on the grounds of the nursing home and we would sit and enjoy the plantings there. She didn’t live long enough to get out into the new garden that was being created in an area just outside her room; but whenever I visited, I would look out her window and apprise her of how it was progressing.

What a lovely thing it is that I will always be able to remember my mother simply by enjoying the fragrances of lilacs, peonies, and lilies. And when I create a new front garden in the next few years, I plan to include some big clumps of lavender in her honor.

If you would like to know more about my mother, click here to read the eulogy that I delivered at her funeral.

28 Comments leave one →
  1. August 4, 2010 12:06 pm

    A beautiful tribute to your mother, Jean. I see how blessed she was to have such a loving daughter.

  2. August 4, 2010 1:02 pm

    It’s good to savour those memories.

    Nothing else to say really.

  3. August 4, 2010 1:07 pm

    Please accept my condolences on the death of your mother. What a beautiful homage to her. May the fragrances of your gardens continue to give you warm memories of your mother and help give you peace.

  4. Elephant's Eye permalink
    August 4, 2010 5:00 pm

    Jean – it has been rough for you, but the fragrance of the flowers and the eulogy, soften the edges a little. That post on your Mother’s Lily is one of the first I remember reading from you. And I do remember it!

  5. August 4, 2010 5:36 pm

    Dear Jean, I am sorry your Mom is not with you anymore, but I also trust that parents actually never leave us. I think the best thing which we can do for our parents is to be happy since this is what they wanted for us, to be happy. I wish you many happy moments in your garden and whenever you see flowers. I read the eulogy. Your mother could be proud of you.
    Take care.

  6. August 4, 2010 5:45 pm

    Jean, I loved he eulogy that you wrote about your mother. It made her so real and reminded me so much of my mother. My mother was also not a gardener, and I lived in an apartment for many years as a child. When we had a home, it was my aunt who taught me to garden. I know there will be many things in your life that will remind you daily of your mother and that’s how it should be with the people we love.


  7. August 4, 2010 6:08 pm

    I am sorry to hear about the loss of your mother. Your heartfelt tribute to her in today’s post is in itself a very touching eulogy. What a wonderful legacy a love of flowers can be. My deepest sympathies to you, Jean.

  8. August 4, 2010 6:13 pm

    I’m so very sorry to hear of your mothers recent passing. Your post is so heartfelt and touching, how wonderful that you shared a common love of flowers. All of her favorites are so special, your Casablanca picture is amazing. My thoughts are with you through this difficult time.

  9. August 4, 2010 6:27 pm

    Jean, I am sincerely sorry for the loss of your friend and mother. You’ve written a beautiful tribute to her, both in the post, and the eulogy ( I can’t believe your sister was cheating at gin rummy). I never knew her, but after reading the eulogy I get the feeling I would have liked her very much. I look forward to seeing the new lavender in your garden. It is interesting how flowers, their sight, or scent, can trigger such strong memories in us. My grandfather’s passion was roses, and it’s difficult for me to see a rose now where I don’t think of him, but it’s a wonderful way to remember those we’ve lost, and keep them close.

  10. August 4, 2010 7:17 pm

    Oh Jean, I am so very sorry to hear about your mothers death. I know how hard it is, but she will always be in your heart and so very close by.

  11. August 4, 2010 8:17 pm

    Jean, I am very sorry to read of your mother’s death. My best wishes to you and your family at this time. Take care, Marguerite

  12. August 4, 2010 8:56 pm

    I am very sorry for you loss. The eulogy you wrote is beautiful. What a remarkable woman she was.

  13. August 4, 2010 9:50 pm

    Dear Jean,
    I am so sorry for your loss. Your post is most touching and beautiful … how lovely to have a shared love of flowers with your mother. May your lavender flourish along with the memories of your mom. I am sure she would be touched by this moving post and your excellent eulogy honoring her life. Take good care. Carol

  14. August 4, 2010 9:54 pm

    I feel for your loss, Jean. I’m glad you’ll have living reminders of her through the peonies. Like you, my father was the gardener. My mom sews but didn’t pass the love on to me.
    I hope you have lots of other family members around to help you through this rough time.

  15. August 4, 2010 11:55 pm

    I’m sorry to hear about your loss. It’s wonderful how the garden can remind us of people we love. I always think about my grandfather when I’m planting tomatoes.
    I’ll keep you and your family in my thoughts.

  16. August 5, 2010 1:13 pm

    Oh Jean, I’m thinking about you.

  17. August 5, 2010 3:22 pm

    Dear Jean, what a lovely post and rememberance. How wonderful that you were able to share flowers with her. That was a peaceful joy, a joy that will always be. Hugs, Gloria

  18. August 5, 2010 5:56 pm

    I am so sorry about your mother’s death. I am glad you have good memories and that wonderful fragrant plants will always remind you of her. My own mother loved plants, too, and her memory lingers in my garden.

  19. August 5, 2010 6:34 pm

    Oh, Jean, my heart goes out to you in your loss. This was a potent and moving tribute. I can understand your mother’s struggle with getting lavender to take in her garden… I’ve gone through the same and still determinedly seek out that calming, soothing scent wherever I can.

    May you be soothed by these fragrant blooms, and by all your loving memories. You have my condolences.

  20. August 6, 2010 6:29 am

    Oh Jean, my heart goes out to you in the loss of your beloved mother. After suffering as a prisoner in her own body she is finally free and at peace. I am so glad you could find a commenality that you two could share about gardens, even though she wasn’t herself a gardener. I adore your post about the various flowers that she loved. At this time I am unable to open the link to your Eulogy–reading and writing from my Blackberry while here in Germany has a few limitations. I can,t wait to read it when I return home. My thoughjts are with you, Jean.

  21. August 6, 2010 11:20 am

    I am so soory to hear about your mom. please accept our condolences. jim and pat

  22. August 6, 2010 3:42 pm

    Jean, I’m deeply saddened to hear about your mother, but it’s clear from your loving tribute that you had a special relationship. May you continue to have warm memories of your mother every time you see one of the plants that had special meaning for her.

  23. August 6, 2010 4:51 pm

    i am so sorry to read of your loss. your post is quite touching and a beautiful testament to your love of your mom.

    sending big hugs your way.

  24. August 7, 2010 10:31 am

    Jean, I’m so sorry to read about your loss. And so touched to read about your wonderful memories. Your mother gave you the greatest gift by instilling a love of flowers in you. As I read the post, I almost got the feeling that I knew her. She obviously was a wonderful person and now I’m glad that she has found peace from pain.
    God bless!

  25. August 8, 2010 12:12 am

    Jean – what a wonderful tribute to your mother! The thread of memories, woven through flowers, scents, the love of all that is growing… It is a treasure! Thanks for sharing!

  26. August 8, 2010 12:48 pm

    Thank you all so much for your kind words and condolences. When I began this blog almost a year ago, I was in part looking for an escape from the pain of my mother’s situation. Little did I know that I was joining a wonderful, supportive community that would surround me with friends as I grieve.

    Because my mother’s brain tumor deprived her of one of the defining features of her personality, her facility with language, the progress of the disease was particularly frustrating and painful, both for her and for those who loved her. In the last weeks of her life, she could barely speak at all, and sometimes couldn’t even indicate yes or no. The result was that her death came as a relief, and we knew that she had been hoping for months that the end would come soon. I was struck by the fact that, while we shed some tears at her wake and funeral, there was far more laughter as we shared stories that brought her fully back to us.

    I know that my mother will always be with me; I am so much my mother’s daughter! It will be interesting to see in the years to come in what ways I become more like her and in what ways I develop my own distinct version of our shared personality characteristics.

  27. November 3, 2010 1:54 pm

    I love peonies and I appreciate your sharing the memories that peonies evoked for you. Visitors at my farm come sharing stories of peonies in their childhood. Great stories.
    I also love Casa Blanca along with Stargazer.

    Thank you for sharing your story about your mother.

  28. Louise Potuchek-Coyle permalink
    December 2, 2010 2:19 pm

    Sincere condolences, Jean. She and your dad always made me smile. Your remembrances are truly heartwarming. When my lilacs bloom in the Spring, I wil think of her & you.

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