Rosemary Is for Remembrance (and So Are Lilacs)

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As artist and writer Julie Zickefoose toils in her lush ahd jumbled gardens, she's reminded of people and places she's known, and of how satisfying it can be to finish weeding a row of plants


Commentator Julie Zickefoose is a writer and painter. She lives in the farmland of rural Ohio and is happy with the slow pace of life there. She takes daily nature walks and works for hours in her lush garden. She's come to the conclusion that a garden can be much more than a collection of plants. Accumulated over years, it holds memories of places and people and it is always a work in progress.


It's high summer and the gardens are blazing with color. My gardens look like they were planted by a crazy person or a monkey, a jumble of hot colors with dashes of pink and blue. Tall things tower in front of short things and I never seem to get around to transplanting them to more appropriate places. Still it's pleasing to me and that's what matters. It's my garden.

This jumble of plants makes sense to me like a cluttered desk works for the person behind it. Day lilies from my sister in Connecticut. Bervane and perennial geraniums from my Massachusetts sister. Red mulberry trees dug from my brother's North Carolina back yard. Spurs from a friend in Oklahoma. Tuberoses and cannas from friends in Ohio. Sundrops from a Connecticut cottage I lived in a quarter century ago.

Long after she passed away, I surreptitiously dug some lilies of the valley from the front year of my grandmothers house in Iowa. I came through her tiny town along the railroad tracks just to see her house once again. I didn't know who lived there now but no one was home, so I used my car keys to dig a few pips out. Now in my Ohio garden they spread a little more each year and their fragrant little bells send me time traveling to her sun porch when I was six, the first and best time I ever smelled lilies of the valley.

Nearby there's a lilac bush, an offshoot of one taken from the farm my husband's family owned, just before the state declared eminent domain and paved that good land over with a highway cloverleaf. It is the most beautiful lilac I have ever seen, with foot long trusses of lavender blue blossoms, each floret the size of a quarter and smelling as the Elysian Fields must. It's my goal in life to propagate it and give it to as many friends as I can.

It's a living album of places and people I love, this garden, and I owe it to the plants to take good care of them and the memories they embody. Watering and weeding, I keep them happy. Weeding makes me happy too. I've figured out that weeding pleases me because in a life that changes direction and purpose without warning, it is the chance to be methodical, to start something that has an end. Weed this row, clean it up. Start on the second row.

Kneeling on the thick, fragrant straw mulch that's my best ally in the weed war, a jewel fly landed on my wrist, a lovely little emerald fighter plane. A chat whistled from the raspberry hedge and snap peas hung above my head waiting to be picked. I worked down the row of lima beans, pulling crab grass. Soon this row would be finished and I'd start on the next. When I stood up, knees aching, I looked back down the rows and see that one thing at least was done well today.

BLOCK: Julie Zickefoose is an artist and writer who lives in gardens in Whipple, Ohio.

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