Friday, February 5, 2010

Square 90: Herb garden

Square 090

One of the first gardens I had was an herb garden. I don't know what first attracted me to herbs. Mom had the usual spice jars in her kitchen, and used them only sparingly. I liked the fragrance of herbs, but they also possessed an esoteric, magical quality.

I had a National Geographic book entitled Nature's Healing Arts, which traced the history of pharmaceutical medicine from folklore to modern science. The pages were filled with photographs of traditional healers wading through streams and meadows, gathering mysterious and healthful plants. I wanted to be one of those people, and learned everything I could about the medicinal qualities of weeds, trees and wildflowers that grew around our house and cottage. I collected and dried them, but rarely used them because I really did not trust the idea.

I also kept my interest secret from my friends, just as I hid all my gardening prowess. Boys were not supposed to be interested in plants, especially not these kinds. Mom let me hang herbs to dry in the little room with the water heater and pump, and it's almost funny thinking back: I kept my herbs in a closet.

Now I mostly use herbs in food. The ones most popular in Western cooking are Mediterranean herbs from the mint family, such as sage, thyme, rosemary, oregano and marjoram. Their smells evoke warm lands and sunny skies.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Square 89: Amaryllis

Square 089

Mom gave me an Amaryllis bulb for Christmas in 2007 and it bloomed that winter before she died. I had not been reliable at maintaining houseplants, but after the flower faded—and with Mom gone—I tried to keep the plant alive as long as possible.

She used to plunge her Amaryllis pots in a shady place in the garden for the summer so they could rest and store up nutrients, but I did not have an adequate garden space.

So I just left it sitting on the back of the toilet, a sunny place in my old apartment. Finally late in the summer its last leaves faded and fell off. I tossed the pot on dim shelf in the hall, unwilling to throw it out but not knowing what to do with it, and forgot about it.

A few months later (this is a year ago now) I was surprised to see new leaves. I moved the pot to a sunny place, and the plant produced another flower.

I had hoped to repeat the miracle. Last August I offered the plant a sunny home in my new bathroom, then moved it again a few weeks ago to a dark corner of the living room.

This week it began sprouting leaves, but I see no evidence of a flower bud. Did I not give it a long enough rest? If I care for it properly this year, will it have another chance?

I remember a few years ago when my friend Lisa lost her mother she commented how strange it felt to find herself at the top of the family tree. I'm not there yet (my father is still alive), but it hit me recently that when I die, some people who live on in my memory will vanish even from there. My children never met my grandfather, Van, whom I was so fond of. Someday when my children die, no one will remember my mother. What happens to people then?

Friday evening while walking home I saw the full moon, Mom's moon, gazing down from a velvet sky. She went away during the lunar eclipse two years ago this month. She is still there now, dropping by once in a while to say hello, and for now, for me, it is enough.

I'll keep coaxing the Amaryllis to bloom. We grasp eternity however we can.