My Toughest Garden Coaching Question: Remembering Anna Elizabeth

When I was in hort school my professors loved to ask wonky landscape questions on tests. Here’s an example. Joe and Jan have a problem spot in their yard. They want help from you. 

Joe and Jan ask, “We’re looking for plants for a spot that faces West (i.e. baking hot afternoon sun), that slopes (i.e. dry spot, soil like a brick), with a bog at the bottom of it (i.e. erosion problem), and an oil tank (i.e. a sore spot in the landscape) that we want to screen. What do you suggest?” 

I answered, “Move.”

My professors found that hilarious. 

Imagine my surprise when a couple came into the store, and asked that exact question. Huh? 

So my professors were right. I get the craziest questions. 

But, I was not prepared for two sisters, two seasons ago. Their need ranks first on the hard question list.

Here’s what they wanted:

Pretty perennial flowers (i.e. the plants will return each year). A fragrance would be nice. (Wouldn’t it just? Please ask the breeders to stop breeding that characteristic out of plants.) They were planting under a cherry tree, but the light was good (though the roots would compete). And, oh yeah, our budget is small, $40.” (Women always know that flowers cost. Men never know that, and are forever astonished when you ring them up.)

So, I can do a lot with 40 dollars, a small space and some pretty flowers. This would be an easy one. I asked, “Whose garden are they going in? Your’s or your’s?” Nodding to each sister to find out who the gardener was. 

The short sister shook her head, neither. She said, “We’re planting them at my daughter’s memorial tree. She went to college here, and the college planted a tree in her honor after she died. But, I want to do something.”

She emphasized I want to do something. Of course, she did.

Her taller sister motioned for me not to respond. She meant, don’t comfort or offer condolences. The mom wasn’t ready for that. And, besides, they were buying flowers for Annie Elizabeth, who, it turned out, liked blue and loved birds.

I understood my job was to help them get through this. They were pretty, funny sisters from Atlanta, who’d lost a beloved daughter and niece, but that day the sun was shining, and they were planting flowers to remember Annie. 

I showed them pictures of my granddaughter. They LOVED her. I told them about all my gardening mishaps (they are legendary). My move to Brevard. My new garden (I waved my arm around the store). I made them laugh. They made me laugh. The tall sister and I communicated with hand gestures and signals, and moved in a behind the scenes way to keep the Annie’s mom upright and moving.  

It was a good day. We gathered Rozanne geraniums (blue, flower all season. low growing), lavender (fragrant, purple spires, ‘Hidcote’ more compact), summer phlox (‘David,’ smells divine, doesn’t get the powdery mildew, gorgeous, white, tall sweeping flowers), heuchera (‘Miracle’, because, well, aren’t all children miracles?), and then began to tally it up. But, the mom saw a small stone container with a bird perched on it. It was 40 bucks. Their whole budget. Annie loved birds. She could put small pebbles in it.

I would have worked a month of Sundays to give her that container to put “pebbles in for her Annie.” But, I understood that she wanted to do something herself.  

After much discussion among the sisters, they decided to blow the budget. Sometimes, you just should.


 Annie’s mom asked if I lived in Brevard. I did. Would I sometimes look after Annie’s garden? I would. I do.

The daffodils are blooming there now, and the college just put mulch down. We lost the lavender  The winter was just too much for it. But the heuchera did great, and the phlox is already coming up. I don’t see signs of the Rozanne geranium, so I’ll buy more, although I’ll wait a few more weeks to plant it. They’re calling for snow again tonight! The little bird container is still there though the sisters worried about someone stealing it. I am contemplating some cyclamen, which would love the roots of the cherry tree (dry, and shady) for a fall bloom. We’ll see.

Until then, I’ll spend the spring answering some pretty bizarre questions about folk’s gardens. Though, I’m betting, none will top Annie’s garden.


2 thoughts on “My Toughest Garden Coaching Question: Remembering Anna Elizabeth

  1. You’ve been looking for your garden, and I think you’ve found it. Cinthia’s garden is composed not just of plants, but of people who need tending also. Cinthia, you are doing an awesome job of taking care of plants and people.

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