Long time gardener, collector of shared memories with my dogs past and present, now happily retired in Blacksburg Va. with my wife Lynne.
Every trail leads to a garden; it’s left to us to see it….
Did you never happen upon a dream? One rainy day I was being tugged along at the end of the leash, that ribbon that connects me to my guardian and guide to the world, she is the one that seeks and finds joy in everything. Walking with hood pulled down against the stinging pellets of rain that sought to drive us back. I came over a hill and happened to glance upon a brief spark of color. I blinked, washing away some drops of rain that hung cold on my lashes, intent on becoming icicles. In that instant the color was gone, but I knew I wasn’t dreaming it. I called for Baby to hold up. She turned to gaze at me; instantly reading my thoughts, she tensed for the adventure. It was a game she loved to play. She who saw everything before I even thought to look for it, was searching out whatever had caught my attention. Was it the rabbit tracks, the scent of deer droppings off to the left, the distant sound of a siren from the next town over? She scoured the landscape, glanced at the birds flying overhead, eager to share in my excitement. I saw it again, but more clearly now, as I neared a tiny thicket of brambles the color became a shape, the shape became a flower, the flower I would learn years later had a history, and that history would give my flower a name. It was a Lily growing deep within the tangle of ivy, briars, and honey suckle. A Tiger Lily lurking unseen in the shadows of the jungle. Together we danced around the thicket, probing the darkness of it, seeking to discover the fullness of its secrets, rejoicing in the beauty and intricacy of this hidden garden.
I could not capture this tiger, it was too wild, too well adapted to the jungle where it lay unseen watching the path. But I marked the time when I would return and I promised her that I would gladly adopt her, giving her a safe home to grow, a place where her offspring would not need to fight the briars for survival. A year passed, and then several months before the time came. I gathered my supplies and set out on the expedition to bring back the tigers. The jungle fought me, scratching, staining my arms with my own blood, spraying me with poison from the ivy as I dug down through the rocks and pieces of decaying timber, remnants of a garden edge. At the floor of the jungle I found Sprouts of Hosta which encircled the tiger’s strong legs. These I dug and set aside, burrowing down through the roots of honey suckle and brambles until at last 18 inches down I came to the tigers lair. There she sat with her cubs. She was a giant, having spent untold years here. It required both hands to carefully gather her up. I replaced the soil, adding some nutrients for some of her cubs that were too stubborn to leave, then took her to her new home. Another year passed when I at last discovered her history. I was having a load of mulch delivered; and by chance Fred, of Bristow Produce saw my tiger and remarked about her. When I told him where I had found her, he related the story of Vernon Wood, an antiques dealer from years past who used to set up old chairs and rockers along the highway leading into town as advertisements for his shop at the top of the hill. I remember the easy way he told this story and the smile that came upon Fred’s face and imagined that sitting in front of Fred’s fireplace there must be one of those old rockers. Vernon had been a gardener and had put flower beds along the way in front of his Gainesville Virginia shop. Now my tiger had a name, she was the ’Vernon Wood Tiger Lily’ from that day on.
The lilacs in our garden were found in the woods along Glenkirk road…
Many years ago, long before the building of Lake Manassas Reservoir, there had been a shanty town of some 20 homes built along a dirt road a few miles from Hay Market, Va., and though I don’t know the origin of it I found evidence that there had been a large plantation in the area. We moved to our first Gainesville house 17 years ago, which backed to Glenkirk Road. Back then my dog Baby and I explored the area poking through the remains of the fallen down shacks and wandering through the woods and brambles that edge the lake and Broad Run. I found old stone fences in places where the land had been cleared for fields but had gone back to nature, and in one of the shacks I found remnants of a WWI uniform. It was in tatters but I saved the buttons. In the field near these old shacks I found Lily of the Valley, fragrant burgundy roses, white and pink lilacs, daffodils, day lilies, periwinkle and wisteria spreading out in all directions. Together with a few neighbor ladies we dug plants from those old home sites for two years, rescuing them back to our new gardens in the Rocky Run Subdivision.
I often wonder if someday someone will come upon those gardens we planted and rescue them back to a new home, or if even now a car drives down Glenkirk, stops, and a voice says,”kids this is where I grew up. Right here! We had a little cabin and used to go play down the path there in grammas’ garden. Sometimes she’d catch us tramping on her flowers and chase us all around with a switch, but it was just a game, you know. Then she’d call us over and tell us the names of all the plants, which ones were her favorites, and which you could eat, or make a poultice from. I guess some say it was hard times back then, but how I did love to listen to gramma’s stories.”
That is the origin of my lilacs and some of my day lilies and roses. The Lily of the Valley and white lilac remain at the old house, but I brought the other plants with me to this new home. Those old shacks have been bulldozed and new homes now cover all traces that they had ever been there; but the flowers and I know. And we share the memory of those days with every spring bloom, honoring the woman who brought them to life so many years ago, and loved them every day, forever.