Grow a Garden Full of Memories

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Author: Lee Ann Smith, Master Gardeners of Ottawa-Carleton, Published with Permission

However you define a garden oasis, I’d like to encourage you to grow some memories! Consider choosing specific plants to celebrate the people and places most important in your life. You can give yourself the pleasure of revisiting favourite friends, family members, events, and places—and not have to leave your backyard.

Consider Namesake Plants

A fun way to start is to consider the names of your friends and family and then hunt for namesake plants. For example, do you have a David? Phlox paniculata ‘David’ is a reliable perennial blooming pure white over several weeks in mid- to late summer. It is also much less prone to the powdery mildew that afflicts many of the garden phlox varieties.

Another idea is the groundcover, dead nettle (Lamium ‘Red Nancy.’) This plant features in my garden as a tribute to my sister, who is fair-skinned and prone to sunburn.

Plants that Honour your Ancestors

You might take the namesake theme even further and create an area in the garden dedicated to your ancestors. As our family’s historian, I’ve been working on this project in my own garden with much delight. I started with my maternal grandmother, who always insisted her mother intended for her to be called Mary Marguerite, despite the name Mary Margaret recorded on her birth certificate. So, of course, I must have the marguerite daisy (Argyranthemum frutescens)! This annual is available in white, yellow, and blue and does struggle a bit when temperatures rise above 29°C. No matter, I smile about my grandmother—with her love of the exotic middle name—for as long as the blooms survive.

Of course, your ancestors may not have been blessed with names popular with plant breeders. This is the case with my great-grandmother, Julianna. However, I do know that her favourite plant was the silver dollar plant (Lunaria annua). She grew these along the side of her house in Buffalo, New York, every year. This plant is a very aggressive reseeder, but I would love to recognize Julianna, so it could have a place in my “Ancestor Area.”

Sometimes your friend or family member’s favourite plant will simply not suit your garden site, and a creative solution is required. This is the case with my grandfather’s roses. He grew magnificent climbers and several types of hybrid teas. Even as a child, I understood the peace rose (Rosa ‘Madame A. Meilland’) took pride of place in my grandparents’ backyard. This pink-edged yellow hybrid tea type has a fascinating history. It was developed during World War II and named Peace at the end of the war. Millions have been planted around the world.

Plants as Tributes

My tribute to my grandfather’s roses is not peace, however. My Ottawa garden does not enjoy the gentle climate of St. Catharines (“The Garden City”), where my grandparents lived. So I will grow the campfire rose (Rosa hybrida ‘Campfire’) instead. This shrub rose is deeper in colour than Peace, but hardier and less prone to all the maladies that plague hybrid teas. It is also a tribute within a tribute: ‘Campfire’ was named for the famous Tom Thomson painting and is one of the Canadian Artist series of roses. Maybe you have an artist you’d like to recognize with a rose?

Plants as Destinations

You may be lucky enough to have travelled to a place that has a plant named for that destination. There is a tulip called Toronto, for example (Tulipa ‘Toronto’), a Greigii type featuring a bouquet of three to five tangerine-red blooms per bulb. There is also a double daffodil named Tahiti (Narcissus ‘Tahiti’). Its fluffy blooms include both a double row of yellow petals and a ruffled yellow and orange trumpet. Both of these plants are garden-worthy, but especially so if you have warm memories of either place.

Have you ever been to Larkspur, Colorado? What a great reason to add a larkspur (Delphinium spp.) to your garden! If your destination doesn’t have a namesake plant, is there a plant you first noticed when you travelled there? Something the place is known for growing? Even if the exact variety might not live in our ecoregion, perhaps there is something similar that will trigger memories of that location for you.

Plant for War Veterans

For a war veteran you would like to commemorate, you might consider growing plants in shades matching the colours of the flag. You could try a red cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), for example, maybe underplanted with some white sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima). Another example from my own garden is the Canadian liberator tulip (Tulipa ‘Canadian Liberator’.) This variety of the triumph type was released in 2020 to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Canadian-led liberation of the Netherlands. My father-in-law was part of that Second World War campaign.

Forget-me-not (Myosotis) is a groundcover that is highly invasive through its reseeding vigour. It should never be planted on a cottage property or near a woodland. But this is the official plant of the Alzheimer’s Society, so I planted some for my mom. I pull most of it before it sets seed, and I still always have plenty in my garden.

Consider Favorite Colours and Scents

You may have plants that were gifts from family or friends. Of course, these will bring a smile every time they come up in the spring. You might even have a friend who has introduced you to a particular colour in the garden. For example, I have several chartreuse plants, each of which reminds me of my friend Linda, for whom this colour is a favourite.

Remember, too, that scent is one of the most powerful triggers of memory. Is there a fragrance that takes you back to childhood summer days? Maybe rose, peony, or lilac? If so, try to find a spot for one of these.

I hope you’ll consider this method of enriching your gardening experience. By including meaningful plant material, colours, and even scents, you can trigger pleasurable memories, grow a tribute, and make your garden even more uniquely yours.

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