Toronto Star column – published Saturday, May 3, 2014
“A mother is a person who seeing there are only four pieces of pie for five people, promptly announces she never did care for pie.” ~Tenneva Jordan
Welcome to May: Gardening Month.
It is Mother’s Day Month too: next Sunday the 11th to be precise. If you are anything like me, Mom is a tough one to buy for. When we were kids it was much easier as there was always lots of stuff that she ‘needed’ including artwork that she hung on the fridge, dandelions that we picked in the local park, and [in my case] a clay ash tray even though she didn’t smoke. Back then the thought really was all that mattered.
But, now that you are an adult, there is an expectation that you give this a little more thought relative to what the gift may mean to her. Once again, I am here to expand your mind on a critically important topic. You don’t want to let your Mom, Grandmother, or Mother-in-Law down, especially the latter.
Mother’s Day Flowers
It is no coincidence that the biggest day in the flower industry is Mother’s Day. There is a reason for this that every mother understands and most of us [men] do not. Flowers are more powerful than words. Write a nice note or a thoughtful poem, for sure, but don’t be mistaken: moms love flowers. Flowers are her ‘refresh’ button after a long, cold winter. They smell good, their colour catches your eye, and just having them brings life to any room.
But flowers are more than the sum of all of their parts. The real, intrinsic value in them is in what they represent more than what they are. Flowers are a product of Nature, they are fragile and temporary but they have enduring qualities that are unique to them. Think, for a moment, about the function of flowers in the bigger world of bees, butterflies and song birds: flowers are the attraction. Flowers are to pollinators what a great looking outfit is to us humans. On the right person, at the right time, the perfect ‘outfit’ makes you want to reach out and hug the person in it. Or maybe ask for their autograph, depending on who is wearing it.
Mothers understand that flowers don’t last forever and they are not impressed by the ‘silk’ flowers that were popular not long ago [the idea of silk flowers is currently dead, thank heavens!] And why is this? Because she had you, that’s why. You were a product of Mother Nature too. Your mom became a mom because of you but you became you because of a natural phenomenon, details of which I would rather not discuss as I don’t have space here to describe the nuances of the thing. Suffice it to say that you are a product of Nature.
So what does all of this have to do with your gift to your Mom next week? Everything. This explains why she does not want more ‘stuff’ – she wants you. Not too many years ago my Mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. While in the early stages of this dreadful disease my wife gave me a splendid idea to take my Mom to a park with a picnic lunch. We did just that. I arrived at her place with a box of food and we travelled to EdwardsGardens, the home of the Toronto Botanical Gardens where we found a park bench under a tree and we ate. We watched the birds, listened to their songs and repeated some oft told family stories. The time with her was so sweet that I found myself wondering why I hadn’t done it a long time ago.
Alas, I had spent a lot of years looking for the ‘right’ gift for her when the best gift of all was attached to my nose. Me.
Instead of You
I understand that distance and time restraints do not always make one-on-one time with your Mom possible. When that happens, remember that Nature is here to rescue you from the clutches of your mother’s disappointment. Consider buying her a tree that will flower on [or near] Mother’s Day, reminding her of you each mid May for years to come. A Saucer Magnolia works here in the GTA as does a flowering crabapple [in spite of its unfortunate name: call it a ‘happy’ apple when you give it to her]. A fruit tree like a peach or cherry will flower about this time of year and produce fruit, with a little luck, later on in the season. And offer to, or arrange to, have someone else prune and apply dormant spray in the late winter/early spring.
Of course a hanging basket or pre planted patio planter brimming with colour is perfect for the Mom with or without a garden. Likely there is somewhere that she can hang or place it. Be sure to think about the exposure to sun that her new flowering gift will receive and don’t burden her with high maintenance flowers like Sunshine impatiens. As beautiful as they are she will have to water them daily and, to be frank, they will never look as good as the day that you bought them. Check out the new varieties of hanging geraniums instead: they can take the abuse of drying out between watering [indeed, they thrive on it]. Or try the new varieties of Calibrachoa, with their small ‘petunia like’ flowers. Consider ivies and flowering verbena for sunny positions.
Feed Your Gift
Be sure to pick up a small container of ‘all season’ fertilizer for her new flowering plants. Brands such as Smart Cote and Feed and Forget work over a 6 month period, delivering a dilute form of plant food to the root zone every time that you apply water to the soil. They are fuss-proof and they work.
If your Mom lives in a house with a garden, consider giving her your time in the garden to turn the soil, add compost, trim shrubs and evergreens, fertilize the lawn, and whatever you do, plan on staying for tea or coffee afterwards. The work that you perform is the gift, your visit is the bow.
Of course you could give your mom a new set of hand pruners, gardening gloves, a bird feeder or bird bath, or a tree or shrub to replace the damaged ones from the December ice storm. Always make sure that you are buying her the best that you can afford as the quality of the gift says a lot about what you are really thinking.
But don’t fall into the trap of giving something that is just a ‘thing’. At the end of the day there is nothing more enduring and worth remembering than your love, expressed in the gift of you. And flowers.