When I was a little girl, my favorite flowers were pansies. I loved their cheerful colors and happy little “faces.” I am still charmed by them. My husband and I have a yearly spring tradition, a “pansy run” to a local nursery.

The peonies that Cheryl A. Stringer planted after her flower-loving mother came to live with them have thrived. Photo courtesy of Cheryl A. Stringer

A few years ago my mother moved in with us. We soon learned that our scattering of flower pots on the front steps and the back deck was not enough for her. “Look at all the room you have on that hillside,” she said. “You could fill it up with flowers!”

A garden is an experiment, and a work in progress. Some plantings were a success from the start. Others, well, not so much. With a sigh, I pulled up numerous dead plants and started over. Mom, however, was delighted. As she watched our garden take shape, she relived happier days of decades past when she and my dad tended their own gardens. Lilacs and hyacinth, tulips and daffodils, daisies and daylilies, Russian sage and bee balm and catmint began to bloom. Vibrant hues and scents filled our once-nondescript backyard. The air hummed with life. A steady stream of bouquets graced the deck table so that Mom, who had lost much of her sight, could enjoy their fragrance up close.

My grandmother had cultivated irises and peonies. I was enchanted by them as a child but feared I couldn’t grow them. Sadly, I was right about the irises. They simply refused to thrive. I bought three peony plants instead. After the second year, they were covered in giant pink and white puffballs of petals. I added more peonies, and more. They competed with pansies as my favorites.

Mom’s health deteriorated, and she had to enter an assisted-living home. As her world shrank, so did her garden. Her windowsill became a flower garden in miniature. I brought bunches of flowers from the garden during the spring and summer of 2019. When the garden petered out that fall, flowers from the supermarket took their place. One day I placed three pots of primroses on her windowsill, a spot of brightness against the dreary winter scene outside.

It was the last time I saw my mother. The pandemic hit Maine, and nursing homes closed their doors to visitors. Mom’s health went further downhill. She lost the ability to walk, and was transferred into the long-term care section of the facility. She died three weeks later, in the middle of May, so suddenly that we could not get there in time to say goodbye in person.

Peonies don’t bloom until June. Mom missed the best year yet for our peonies. I cut two bouquets from our bumper crop and gave them to a dear friend instead. I may plant more this year, in memory of my flower-loving mother and grandmother. But first, Ed and I will make our “pansy run.”

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