Of Roses and Nasturtiums
by Sandra Frisby
November 10, 1999

My garden is a natural development for anybody with a big back yard and a love of colour. For me it has an added significance - it is a way to bring to life my love for and memories of my two quite exceptional grandmothers.

Many of the first pictures of me as a baby were taken in my Grandmother Frisby's lush and lovely English garden. Grannie's nostalgia for the life of gentility of which she felt herself to have been cheated was everywhere in that garden - from the delicacy of the climbing roses that enclosed the formal garden to the redolence of the honeysuckle draping the watershed. She spent her days in that garden, far from the Leceistershire hospital where she had once been matron, staking the hollyhocks and delphiniums, focusing attention on the campanulas to be deadheaded rather than backwards to England and her marriage to the second son of wealth - no fortune in that, nor any training for the ruder life . No farmer, my gentle grandfather, but his wife's steely determination made it so. The kitchen garden bore the wonderful asparagus which I knew even at five years old would taste wonderful had it not been cooked until gray - Grannie's strength was her garden, and not, certainly, her kitchen. She brought her garden indoors in the form of chintz-covered sofas - handmade,and hand-stuffed. There was no money for the best and the most elegant, so she willed it into place and, miraculously, there it was. She would have been a formidable opponent, I think....I have no way of knowing - she was my grandmother.

The garden of my other grandmother, "Bucky" I called her - a childhood nickname that stuck - her garden was quite another thing. Smaller in scale, more casual in design, patterned more by annuals to allow for the moment's whim. An old pink climber rose rambled unchecked over the back shed. Its sweet-scented perfume filled the air and when my grandmother passed it, she invariably lowered her head against the redolent blossoms, a pleased, abstracted smile playing on her soft, pretty face. The one constant among the ever-changing display of annuals was the nasturtiums growing just outside the back door. The morning ritual was to pour the dregs from the teapot on the nasturtiums - she said it fertilized them and I believed her implicitly, in this as in all other matters. I'm afraid I was rather heavy-handed when I was left to this task, the dregs not being quite as cool as the nasturtiums might have desired. Bucky didn't seem to mind - she thought I was more important than nasturtiums. A lot of Bucky's garden was inside her head, in that wonderful imagination that came flowing out onto canvas - scenes of boats on a river, of nesting robins, of snowy lanes. And it came out in her love of poetry - Walt Whitman and Omar Khayyam.

My grandmothers have strewn memories of their lives in my heart, some like the single, delicate petals of the roses they both loved, others like the strong bright blossoms of Bucky's sassy marigolds. They follow me around my own garden as I prune the climbing roses and pour the cooled remains from the teapot over the nasturtiums.

Sandra Frisby I belong to a "Write the Story of YOUR LIFe" group at the McGill Institute for Learning in Retirement (MILR) in Montreal Email:

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