• Lorraine A. Lee

Garden History Whispers

With only a little bit of free time, I visited my dearest friend Ricki in Northern California for a few days this month. We lived across the street from each other when Margot was only 2 and she means the world to me.

Initially I planned to take her to Golden Gate Park in San Francisco but I decided to stay in town due to long distance circumstances I had to deal with unexpectedly. Taking a break from phone calls, emails and upsetting discussions, I drove by the Shinn House and Arboretum and said, " I have to take Ricki here".

Friends of Heirloom Flowers was the first garden club I joined when our daughter started school and I remember being given the task of deadheading hundreds of roses in the bright, hot sun. It seems like so many lifetimes ago. These dedicated volunteers take care of a secret garden of sorts in the middle of a hurried, noisy Bay Area city-Silicon Valley where millions of people rush 24/7.

The Shinns started one of the first nurseries in California and imported many exotic trees and plants from all over the world, some still on the property.This home is a unique example of a victorian home with Bavarian influence. It's made of redwood and limestone. I had to touch the redwood trees in the back and admire their color, seeming so different from our New England landscape. I didn't realize how much I missed seeing them.

The garden club has a charming cottage with a cedar shake roof with a quaint garden on the side and in the back. It was built right after the Gold Rush from timbers of abandoned schooners at the Alameda Bay shore. The long drought has made succulents a mainstay of gardeners but happily the numerous rose bushes were still flourishing.

Yes, the garden was therapy for me, made all the more comforting by sharing it with my special friend. "We have history" she'd say. Her love of Japanese landscapes inspired my own admiration for them. The cedar shake rooftops reminded me of our own, now replaced by new homeowners as many others have done. In the background you can see the two enormous wine palms planted in the 1870's.

The gate invites us in to rest, reflect and restore. Elm Bank in Wellesley is working on bringing back the Japanese Tea Garden on the Cheney estate. I seek out these works of art wherever I travel.

Japanese maple trees always remind me of Ricki. I planted one in our yard thinking of her. Why us she my friend? She has always put others first before herself and was like a second mother to me. My mother loved her and they would chat on the phone - Texas to California. I dreamed of the day both would be near me when my father retired but it was not meant to be.

I'm thankful to Friends of Heirloom Gardeners for offering this little spot for two old friends to create a new memory amongst whispers of the past. I felt comforted in a challenging time and know as Ricki says, "this too shall pass". In the meantime, don't forget to stop and smell the roses.

Look at the roots on this Morton Bay Fig tree! They remind me of strength. The garden is a respite during difficult times no matter where we are. Margot has grown into a wonderful young woman since she was last here at an old fashioned ice cream social playing with the other children with hoops on the lawn...oh the stories this tree could tell.

Sometimes my husband complains about his pockets being filled with acorns, pinecones, rose petals, seed pods, sticks and little rocks. "Somebody's been wearing my coat"! the predictable engineer claims year after year.

They are my memories in tangible form.

I use them to elicit happy moments in the far reaches of my clients with dementia almost everyday, too.

Yes, there are some feathers, leaves and olive pits in a special box on the studio table along with jakeranda pods from Ricki's house. We saw that tree grow up too.

My mother always said "if you have one true friend in life, you are lucky". I agree, I am blessed.

Be that person who makes a difference in someone's life for the better-it can carry on for generations.

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