I thought about sending flowers for this memorial, but Mum wouldn’t get the benefit of them. I tried for years to find somewhere that would send her snowdrops, violets, or any of the other delicate flowers she loved, but whatever promises were made, the flowers had turned into gerbera, roses and stargazer lilies, by the time she got them. So this seems a better way to celebrate her life in flowers.
We knew as children of her love of flowers, even though in those frugal days she didn’t have cut flowers or plants in the house, and she never liked my grubby, dying offerings of wild daffodils, coltsfoot, or bluebells. She preferred them in their natural habitat, even though she had little time to see them. But what she liked for birthdays and Christmas were soaps and bathcubes smelling of lemon verbena, lily of the valley, or freesia.
I really saw what flowers meant to her when we went camping in Europe for the first time. On a visit to a favourite place of hers, Grindelwald in Switzerland, she so much wanted to visit the alpine meadows that she overcame her phobias and took a ride on a ski-lift over the meadows. The wild flowers were spread like a glorious tapestry below us – crocuses and daisies, irises, edelweiss, and her favourites, gentians. I think that was the first time I saw Mum truly and completely carefree, simply enraptured by the world around her.
In 1964, when the family moved to Linton in Cambridgeshire, the house had, beyond the kitchen, a room which had been an outbuilding and still had an earth floor. Mum and Dad had it floored properly to use as a dining room, but Mum asked the builder to leave a border of earth along one wall, and planted it with spring bulbs. This house had a beautiful garden, more fertile than the gardens in Yorkshire, and was where Mum really started to love gardening. She also started to grow indoor plants. She missed them very much on the move to Edmonton, as even indoor plants didn’t flourish there.
I can’t remember the exact date I was introduced to the Butchart Gardens, probably in the summer of 1975, and although it was not the sort of garden I like, it was a delight to visit with Mum because she loved it so much, staying faithful to it through the years of more and more touristification and development, until it became a travesty of its former self. Mum’s love of flowers (with the exception of red ones) was unconditional.
In Victoria her cultivation of African violets and Cape primroses came into its own. Mum not only had green fingers, but a green spirit. Her violets flourished to such a degree because she gave them a mother’s tender loving care. In her seventies, she started giving up doing things she was finding increasingly difficult, such as sewing and knitting, and she tried to give up her African violets because she could no longer give them her usual standard of care. One day, she threw out all the plants which had no buds on them. She went to bed feeling very miserable and bereft. The next morning, on going into the kitchen to make breakfast, she discovered on the windowsill, to her amazement, nine leaves in nine little jars of water.
Whenever I visited, more frequently and for longer when she was looking after Dad, we used to go for a daily walk. We made a pact that we would never discuss problems or difficulties on our walks. We would only talk about the here and now. As our walks were all about discovering different wild flowers, what we talked about was flowers. It was the best thing we ever did. We started to get to know each other. Not as mother and daughter, but as friends, sharing what really matters, our soul and spirit. On our walks all over Victoria during those years, she was the most delightful companion. Her desire to find a rare white camas, or the first chocolate lilies of the year, or the oyster flowers at the bus stop before they were cut down, gave a purpose and destination to our walks. After Kenneth died, she would take me to the new places she had found with the hospice walking group, as part of an on-going conversation about flowers which only came to an end with her increasing dementia. Even after Dad died, we walked until she wasn’t able to any more, when she was over 90. Then we used to go in the car to somewhere she could stand with her walker, to see the lupines in the park behind Cattle Point, or the flowers in the little Native Garden, or the shooting stars in the triangle at Cadborough Bay, but as she became increasingly dependent on the view and the ‘wild beasts’ at Cattle Point, flowers finally lost their importance to her. The last time I saw her, and tried to talk to her about the early and late camas I had been visiting in Victoria, she said: “I don’t remember any of that and I don’t want to talk about it”.
Mum was afraid that she wouldn’t be remembered after she died. Every time I look at a flower, I am flooded by so many memories, of walks, of conversations, of what it meant to her, of whether it was one of her favourites. As I assured her over and over again, there will be no forgetting.