I think we all probably associate certain plants with particular events and people in our lives. The smell of pear blossoms or pine bows, hyacinths or lilacs, can sweep me into the past as magically as a madeleine once transported Proust. I was struck by this recently when I went back to my home town in Pennsylvania for the funeral service of a beloved aunt. She’d been brought up, along with my father and five other siblings, in the beautiful stone Arts & Crafts house pictured here. Her mother, my grandmother, had been a passionate gardener and some of my earliest memories are of running through the magnificent rose garden she nurtured for decades in the backyard.
A weeping cherry stood sentry in the middle of that garden, it’s wands lengthening as the tree rose higher and higher over the years. It seemed as tough, indomitable, and yet as innately graceful as both my grandmother and aunt had been. “She was a lady,” one of her many grandchildren said of my aunt at the funeral. She was also a gardener (the first I knew to embrace organics) who raised her five children with the same steadfast optimism and good humor she brought to working her six acres of recalcitrant Pennsylvania hillside.
The weeping cherry’s gone now, victim of the violent weather that has felled so many beautiful old trees along the east coast. It seems impossible that it’s no longer there, especially in springtime when it had always been in its glory. As it seems impossible, too, that my aunt is gone just as the world — and her garden in particular — is bursting into flower. I’m not sure she got to see the new weeping cherry that was planted in place of the old one. It’s not much taller than a teenager at this point, with gangly wands. It’s probably just about the height the old one was when my aunt was a young girl, running through the garden.
Here’s a poem by the award-winning American poet Linda Pastan. For more poems by and information about her, please visit: http://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poet/linda-pastanWeeping Cherry Our cherry with its tortured limbs, its writhing poses— like some Dada sculpture as it practices its beautiful contortions all winter long— is tricked out for April in pastel blossoms, like an old woman pretending to be young in a new and much too pink spring hat. So when a wind comes up and scatters all that color, I am almost relieved as I stare from the window at the fallen blossoms. Though spring intoxicates with its tide of green, its flowers, winter has stricter compensations.
What a magnificent garden. And what a moving tribute to your aunt and grandmother.
Sorry for your loss.
Such gifts in your early years…you had so many nourishing experiences in your childhood.
Lovely article and photos. You brought me back to that same place and time with your words about certain plants and their scents! It transported me immediately and brought back so many memories. I am sorry for your loss and know you will miss your aunt, but I know she would be so happy and proud that she helped instill the love of gardening and nature (along with your grandmother), in your heart! I hope you’ll be able to check on the “teenager” from time to time.
Thanks, Jenn. We try to get to Bryn Athyn at least twice a year — at Easter and Christmas — and we always visit with Martha. So I will get a chance to watch the “teenager” grow.
What a great poem!
When was the picture of the mature weeping cherry taken? Do you know how old it was then? It is interesting to learn about the life of plants, how long they last.
I can see how much your aunt influenced you. So often it’s not our parents, but their siblings or our parents’ parents who have the greatest impact on us, making their loss a deep one indeed.
I love this time of year, though, with all of its great flowering!
I took the photo in 2011 at Easter — the year that everything bloomed so early. I’m not sure how old the tree is — it was there for as long as I can remember. Until it wasn’t.
What a wonderful poem.
I know you wanted to be a gardener like your aunt. And it appears you are.
Amazing how she influenced you and how it stayed with you.
Someone else noted that it is not always our parents who influence our interests
but other relatives. I’m sure she would have loved what you have created.