In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens
A stroll with Alice Walker in my mother's garden
Welcome! This page may always be a work in progress for my mother, at 91, is not nearly finished with her gardens, and I, at 66, am not nearly finished with her.
Nor am I finished with Alice Walker's collection of essays, In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens.
Here you will find plenty of pretty pictures of my mom's gardens, and no paucity of wisdom from the venerable Miss Walker.
But my intent in writing this page is to delve a bit, as Miss Walker has, as my mother has, into the juxtaposition of all that forms and binds and is beautiful and decays and must be discarded and returns to the earth.
Not that I could ever, in a million years accomplish that, hence the perpetual work in progress.
So welcome! Come on in. Walk the twisting paths of my mother's garden with me. Join me in delving a bit deeper into the wisdom of one of the finest writers ever to come from American soil.
Mom's hand-dug pond
Mom dug this pond herself, by hand, with a pick and a shovel. She carted all the dirt and rocks to other places in the garden, wherever it needed a little more soil or some stones to pave a path or protect a border.
In the beginning, there was no water on this part of the property, so she filled the pond with buckets of water she carried, one by one, the length of a football field.
The girls? They are two of her great grandchildren, little when this was taken, all grown up now.
To my sister, Evelyn, who year after year finds inspiration in our mother's garden and photographs it so beautifully.
Red Tail Hawk flying into the giant ponderosa just out of view
This land was hard-packed farm land when Mom and Dad retired to it. Conventionally farmed for decades, the soil had no life in it, no organic matter.
For the first five years, Mom and Dad worked compost into the soil, planting anything that would grow. Dad's realm was vegetables, Mom's flowers.
Their lives revolved around the seasons, the weather, and whether there would be enough water left after the farmers had their share to keep the gardens alive in the hottest months of the year.
What is always needed in the appreciation of art, or life, is the larger perspective. Connections made, or at least attempted, where none existed before, the straining to encompass in one's glance at the varied world the common thread, the unifying theme through immense diversity, a fearlessness of growth, of search, of looking, that enlarges the private and the public world.— Alice Walker in "Saving the Life that is Your Own"
In Search of Our Mother's Gardens - by Alice Walker
The quotations throughout this page are from Alice Walker's book, In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens: Womanist Prose. Like my mother all of my life, Alice Walker has been, throughout much of my adult life, my teacher, role model, sometimes savior, and always inspiration.
Without the two of them, I may not have survived.
I give gratitude for their patience, courage, will, persistence and love--the love of a mother for her child and the love of a woman for her world, however painful she may find it at times.
Growing up in the South, Alice Walker felt the backlash of discrimination. Thanks to the "good ladies of the church," and to three gifts from her mother, she escaped the dead-end life society prescribed, got an education and never stopped learning.
During the Civil Rights strife, she risked her life, met her husband and gave birth to her daughter Rebecca. This collection of essays offers a highly personal glimpse into the very personal life and mind of one of the most beloved authors of our time.
Swaths of color greeted us all summer long
We moved a lot, growing up, and Mom and Dad always had a garden. Summer was a time of bounty, at the table, and in nearly every room of the house, where, on sweltering days, colorful bouquets cooled our fevered minds if not our bodies.
When it got too hot in the house, we would go outside and lie among the flowers. In the shade of a big elm tree, usually, for there were still plenty of elms back then, we would suck on cool stems of grass and drink iced tea.
You can still get plenty of iced tea and cool shady bowers on a summer's eve in Mom's gardens, where she is always more herself than perhaps any place on earth.
And when I listen to my mother tell and retell this story I find that the white woman's vindictiveness is less important than Aunt Mandy's resourceful generosity or my mother's ready stand of corn. For their lives were not about that pitiful example of Southern womanhood, but about themselves.— Alice Walker in "The Black Writer and the Southern Experience"
The front gardens follow the lane
Dad had three vegetable gardens: This large one, surrounded by the curvy lane and Mom's borders, and two in the back, up the hill. Nothing pleased him more than bringing in a bushel of corn, "cukes," string beans and "'maters." But I think he enjoyed Mom's bouquets as much as she did, never failing to point out something new that was blooming when his children or grandchildren visited.
Now he's gone, the vegetable garden is relegated to a small raised bed by the kitchen door, easy for mom to grow a few tomato plants and the fresh herbs she loves--dill, sweet parsley, garlic, thyme. Now all the gardens are my mothers outdoor rooms.
I felt, on the first day before my class, as if the room were full of my mothers.— Alice Walker in "'But Yet and Still the Cotton Gin Kept on working ...'"
Spring daisies with purple Iris
Mom calls these white daisies Margeurites and the iris Flags.
One time, in the dead of winter, we moved to a trailer court instead of to a house. No garden. Not even a flower bed. Mom pined for spring and for spring flowers, so for her birthday that year, which falls in May, I went to the only florist in town and asked them for a bouquet of iris.
After considerable persuading, and a promise to pay double the cost of a usual bouquet, I was rewarded. The proprietor told me to come back after lunch. I did, and she had a huge vase of irises in almost every shade and color. Boy, were they fragrant!
Years later, I married and, as luck would have it, moved into a home across the street from that same florist. When spring came, a few iris bloomed in her yard, but in mine! Well, I tell you. We had an entire garden that was nothing but iris, in every shade and color. Turns out, I now owned the garden from which my mother's soul-saving iris had come when I was still a teenager.
Yet so many of the stories that I write, that we all write, are my mother's stories.— Alice Walker in "In Search of our Mothers' Gardens"
Purple and white daisies in the wildflower meadow
The first year they moved to "the ranch," as we call the small acreage on which Mom and Dad retired, Mom scattered a bucket of wildflower seed in the meadow below Dad's garden and just in front of the woods. That first spring and summer, it was a riot of color and diversity, but each year the meadow changes, as different wildflowers come to the fore and others recede.
My mother's voice is in the gardens she tends so lovingly. "Grow, little plant," she says, patting the earth tenderly around a seedling. "It's up to you now. I've done what I can."
"What shall I talk about?" I asked. To which Charles replied, "Oh, let me see: The War, Poverty, The Plight of women, Your Own Writing, Your Life, or How Things Were When You Were at Sarah Lawrence. ... It needn't be anything fancy, or long."— Alice Walker in "A Talk: Convocation 1972"
The rock garden terrace
My uncle, a botanist, visits the ranch often. One year, he helped my mom lay this beautiful terrace down the hillside behind the house.
Quaking aspens and white pines bordered the top of the hill, their leaves rustling sweetly whenever the slightest breeze slipped along the curving edge.
Dad planted raspberries on the level. Mom planted lilies and strawberries and dozens of curious little plants among the rocks, so that, when mature, they cascaded down the sides.
Whatever she planted grew as if by magic, and her fame as a grower of flowers spread over three counties. Because of her creativity with her flowers, even my memories of poverty are seen through a screen of blooms--sunflowers petunias, roses, dahlias, forsythia, spirea, delphiniums, verbena ... and on and on.— Alice Walker in "In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens"
Black-eyed Susans and the heat of summer
In the heat and dust of summer, when water is scarce, the black-eyed Susans reflect the sun's golden hue right back at her, and though we may taste dust walking the unpaved lane, we give gratitude for their shining faces turned eagerly, it seems, toward their mother.
In the cities it cannot be so clear to one that he is a creature of the earth, feeling the soil between the toes, smelling the dust thrown up by the rain, loving the earth so much that one longs to taste it and sometimes does.— Alice Walker in "In Search of our Mothers' Gardens"
Mom with her beloved irises
I hope you enjoyed this stroll through Mom's gardens
Do you have a favorite garden? Or memories of childhood gardens?