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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Granddaddy's Daffodils

"I drove to grandma's house to dig up some of the daffodils for you.  I'm here now but it looks like the realtor has mowed them all down." He was talking in a voice you use when you call to give somebody bad news.  Gentle, like he was expecting me to burst into tears.

I've written about it before.  When the snow has melted and the temperatures are starting to warm up a little.  The ground is still all brown, the trees still bare.  No matter how many years I garden, I always worry that that nature just stopped working.  That my garden has up and died. But then I remind myself about my grandfather's daffodils.

All my life the long driveway in front of my grandmother's ranch style Memphis home has been lined on both sides with bright yellow daffodils.  Each year when they'd bloom, my grandmother would remind us all that my then deceased grandfather planted them years ago.  She referred to them randomly as daffodils, jonquils or buttercups depending on her mood.  My grandfather died when I was around five but for me, his memory has lived on in the things he planted.  That tiny pecan tree now litters my grandmother's and her neighbor's backyards with huge delicious pecans every year.  A houseplant my grandmother somehow managed to keep alive in a giant pot by the living room window, its leafy vines climbing up and down the 5 foot stake in the center of the pot.  It finally died when my grandmother's dementia caused her to forget to water it, but not before my mother took several cuttings from it which are now big beautiful plants in their own right. And the daffodils by the driveway.

My grandmother's house was placed on the market for sale a couple of weeks ago.  My brother and his wife dug up some of the daffodils and mailed them to me.  They have survived for over 30 years and I wanted them to live on in my garden reminding me of my grandparents and giving me stories to tell folks every year when they bloom.

Opening the box of bulbs my brother mailed me was surreal.  I never gardened when I lived in Tennessee.  I only know Illinois dirt, grey, clay, almost ash colored.  But this dirt holding together severely compacted clumps of daffodil bulbs was light and fluffy, and more red colored.  It reminded me of milk chocolate.  I was more taken aback by how different, how foreign and beautiful the dirt looked to me than I was the daffodil bulbs.  For some reason it intensified the disconnect I feel from my hometown and from my family.

I planted the now dry daffodil bulbs in three different places in my front garden and as I poured the Memphis dirt on top of the bulbs it looked even more red against the backdrop of my Illinois dirt.  And then I noticed a small worm that had somehow survived the trip from Memphis squirming around in the dry dirt.  I covered the bulbs and lone Memphis worm and watered them. 

I am already looking forward to next spring.  From what I've heard the daffodils may not bloom next year because they were cut down in the middle of their blooming cycle but hopefully they will the year after.  I have faith and I am willing to wait for them as long as it takes.


  1. How good that you got those plants, Gina. I'm a real estate agent and I do lots and lots of foreclosures and short sales, lots of estates, too. I can always get permission from current owners, executors, banks to dig up all sorts of things in the gardens of these homes and you wouldn't believe the gems I've found. I always feel I have clients in my own gardens. I've actually come up with the idea to create an Amistad Garden (amistad is Spanish for friendship) and plant all these things into these gardens. The ones that always get to me the most are the estate plants and the military housing plants. I loved your story. I can't wait to see Amistad up and running.

  2. Beautiful post, Gina.
    Isn't it wonderful that are loved ones can be remembered in our hearts and our gardens?

  3. Your story brought tears to my eyes. I have plants in my garden that came from my mom's house. They bring real joy to me. I will have my fingers crossed that those daffodils will bloom for you next year.

  4. I lived in Memphis for 20 years. I could not believe how easily the daffs naturalized there! I wish I had some small piece of my grandparents. I loved your blog today!

  5. This is a touching story. It seems that plant memories are just as strong as food and smell memories! And through those daffodils, your grandparents' legacies live on.

  6. You got me all choked up too, Gina - especially when you spoke about how the difference in the soil emphasized that you were gardening in a different land.

    My parents' house is up for sale right now, but their Illinois plants haven't done well in Texas. Your daffodils should make the reverse trip well - they're going to bloom beautifully some day!

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  7. So beautiful, Gina! Makes me think of the garden I grew up in and all the special memories of my grandparents' garden too.

  8. Wendy - I love the idea of the Amistad Garden! Tell me more? So will this be in YOUR garden or do you have another space for Amistad?

    Karen - thanks. I planted a memory garden for my father-in-law but this is the first time I've gotten plants from a family member like this. Crossing my fingers they survive!

    Sallysmom - so nice that you're able to have your mom's plants growing in your garden. Thanks for visiting my blog and the kind words.

    Sissy - fellow Memphian! Yes, these daffs at my grandmother's house were so compacted that they hardly bloomed anymore. Hoping giving them some space will breathe some life back into them. Thanks for visiting my blog and the nice words. I really appreciate it.

    Kate - it's funny but I never paid any attention to these plants growing up. I really took them for granted. But yes, as an adult, they really do take me back when I see them. Funny story, the other day I smelled spray paint and it took me back to my childhood when my father was a painter. I'm sure he didn't know he was exposing me to VOC's back then. HA

    Annie - the dirt thing really caught me off guard. I had all the emotions over it and at the same time I was like "WHY AM I ALL EMOTIONAL OVER DIRT!" I hope you're right about the daffs making the move from TN to IL.

    Maria - thanks for stopping by and commenting. I really appreciate it.

  9. Gina, Amistad will be on my property. I've been trying to start a PeeWee Victory Garden (where children "own" the plots) and you have no idea the hell I've been going through with the town, bureaucracy, red tape, etc. That is such a long story that it will require ten posts to get the story out. So Amistad is with me and if I can get the PeeWee garden to take off, we'll be encouraging kids to harvest what's been abandoned and transplant it. Keep it going, I always say. I also have a PeeWee garden in my own house... I plant a seed on every child and grandchild's birthday and when it's ready, it gets transplanted into the PeeWee Garden.