My Gardening Angel

Posted on February 2, 2012


Call it rustic. In fact, the chair looks pretty beat up, decrepit, with the majority of its paint stripped and peeling from the back spindles and seat. From its back’s frame is hung a painted angel with the lettering “Garden Angel” above the wooden cutout.

My gardening angel sits and watches over the yard

I gave the little sign to my mother over a decade ago to hang from a nail on her deck railing. It was a parting token before I moved to the Okanagan. Perhaps a heavenly guardian would look after her beloved garden and keep things thriving once I left.  More than just a protector of sorts, that little angel plaque was a visible reminder of the relationship the two of us made over the many years I helped cultivate her garden.

Mom had always been the family “rock”, although wheel-chair bound in the second half of her life. As a mature senior living alone in her own home, (an issue she felt passionately stubborn about), she obviously needed help in maintaining her independence. I had a growing curiosity about plants and gardening and she was an eager teacher. It was my time to be there for her as best I could, to be her arms and legs.

The back yard canvas we had to work with was dreadful as far as landscaping merits. A couple of poorly pruned, nasty-looking plum trees and a mammoth, dinosaur-aged grape vine were the foundation plantings. A small, sloping yard bisected by a wooden ramp for the wheelchair was hardly ideal. Mom, surprisingly, had visions in her head of some impressive Better Homes and Gardens’ rural estate. Some aggressive lopping here and there certainly helped initially, but the real labour of love, the transformation, progressed over several years.

Much of the direction came from Mom herself as she perched on an old wooden kitchen chair, freeing her from the restrictive wheelchair. Constructing two raised planting beds alongside a rampway helped her get closer to her botanical “babies” for inspection and watering. Reclaimed bricks provided two paved areas in the yard where she could be wheeled to enjoy the blooms and scents of the summer. When one of the leggy plum trees finally succumbed to a violent wind storm, it was cut into lengths and reborn as a rustic pergola with a vine canopy. Flower beds were crowded with bulbs and small shrubs and pretty much anything she fancied from the nursery catalogues. She was always up for an experiment or a challenge if it grew in dirt. I couldn’t help but learn about plants; I began to comprehend the stuff that made my mom tick. Two awesome rewards in one package.

Another insightful gift came through her comments about aging and complaints regarding access as a disabled individual. Sensory delights didn’t just vanish when you were placed in a wheelchair, nor did one’s desire to experience the moist earth  falling between arthritic fingers. Her mind was chockfull of horticultural information worth sharing, and I was blessed to be the recipient of that knowledge. I discovered a respect for aging seniors while pocketing away mental notes for my own future.

I still miss her, but I have transported some of her treasured shrubs from the old place which now grace my own garden sanctuary. Even her old, dilapidated wheelbarrow has become a portable floral display. And if you look closely, under our cherry tree, near the ferns and rhododendrons, you’ll find that old, weathered chair, the “Garden Angel” chair, the one Mom used to sit upon and orchestrate her dreams. Now she can watch over me and my garden in our new place. And that makes me smile a lot.