by Charlene Burgi
I spent this week at my 93-year-young mother’s home. Her front garden, one that she continues to tend, has an eclectic look that always draws attention and compliments from those passing by. While visiting, I walked down the garden path. The crimson rhododendrons nodded their big blooms in the gentle breeze. From below, competition-orange spikes of clivia vied for attention. The azaleas growing near the birdbath sported brilliant color as various species of birds delighted in this folly.
The walk evoked memories from the past. This garden was installed over sixty years ago by my dad, his father and their Italian friends. These men were craftsmen from the old country who loved the soil and all it produced. They were fabulous gardeners. As a child, I remember watching them install what seemed like mountains of composted manure and topsoil into this relatively small space. The soil almost appeared black. It was so rich I couldn’t help but run my hands through it. Little did I realize the importance of their effort, but these Italians understood the need for healthy soil. Their attention to this detail allowed for an otherwise high-water hydrozone to thrive with only modest to low irrigation.
Time in the garden witnessed an evolution as my sister Donna and I grew. In the early years, the garden sported a lawn where we played croquet with neighborhood friends. As we got older, Donna and I traded in the croquet set for adventures that took us out and away from the front yard, and the lawn was no longer needed. My mother is extremely practical as well as thrifty. She recognized the drain on our time mowing, as well as the savings realized by not watering a lawn. Our teen years found the lawn transformed into a perennial garden mixed with flowering shrubs, a small birds-eye gravel path meandering through.
Strolling through my mother’s garden also reminded me of another garden where I wandered as a child. The memories found me in my grandparents’ yard, which was beautifully designed and lovingly installed by my mother’s Italian father. Nono didn’t leave a bare spot unturned without planting beautiful flowers. His passion spilled beyond his garden and into the streetscapes surrounding their home where neighbors relished his works. The steep streetscape overlooking the Carquinez Strait in Contra Costa County found my grandfather hand-watering the glorious flowers that colored an otherwise drab landscape. Buckets of mulch were hauled up the hill to help hold the moisture in the soil on this windy slope drenched in sunlight. Hand-watering the prized streetscape must have been a laborious act of love. He put into practice what he knew to be efficient as well as practical . . . even on a steep hillside.
Completing my little walk along my mother’s path, I realized what gifts I was given as a child—to grow up in a family with an amazing wealth of knowledge and passion for the soil and all that grows from it. During the walk, I found a bare spot that is now waiting for me to plant a jasmine (Jasminum polyanthum) that called to me at a local nursery. Its dainty pink flowers will bring hummingbirds to the garden and cheer to my mom.
Join Us for These Upcoming Events!
MMWD is hosting an Open House this Saturday, May 5, in celebration of the district’s 100th anniversary and to say “Thank you!” to our customers. Please join us for refreshments, giveaways, kids’ activities, historical displays, demonstrations and guided tours of MMWD’s water quality lab and operations center. The free, family-friendly event will be 10:00 a.m. to noon at our corporation yard at 220 Tamal Vista Boulevard in Corte Madera.
If you are looking for inspiration for your garden, look no further than your Marin neighbors. The Marin Bay-Friendly Garden Tour on Saturday, May 19, features 11 beautiful gardens that will inspire you with low-water-use and native plants, backyard farming, wildlife habitat, lawn conversions, rainwater harvesting and more. Registration is $10 and includes a tour guidebook with directions, garden descriptions and 36 garden entrance tickets that can be shared with your family and friends.