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Gardening Love: My Father’s Gift to Me

Tony's garden

A fanatical love of gardening is passed from father to daughter. 

By Mary Lynn Bruny

I am a ridiculously ardent gardener. People admire my garden and “ooh” and “aah,” but I’m a little embarrassed about it. It shows that I purchase way too much and spend way too many hours puttering that I should probably spend on productive tasks, like balancing our woefully out-of-date checkbook, washing the dirty laundry or cooking dinner for my hungry children.

Tony's garden
Tony’s garden

I inherited this fanatical love of gardening from my wonderfully charming father, who passed away about a year ago. If I’m a bit “gardening compulsive,” he was a complete “gardening psycho nut.” His yard in Georgia was a veritable jungle; his deck was filled with dozens of huge pots overflowing with massive tangles of flowers and vines. On every visit I would attempt to help him gain control with pruning, separating and weeding.

But inevitably we’d end up at the local nursery where we would buy more than we just got rid of. It was a marvelously vicious cycle. He would pick up some flowering gem and say with a mischievous smile, “How can we not get this? We NEED this!” (Our definition of “need” included what one “needed” for one’s soul. And we needed foliage for our souls.)

My father was my Head Enabler for years. In my first house he showed me how to form and make flower beds (straight lines are for novices) and how to amend the soil (tons of peat moss), and bought me dozens of perennials, which we planted together. For birthdays, I would get expensive clippers, an antique watering can or a shiny green wheelbarrow as gifts from him.

The author with her father, Tony Romano
The author with her father, Tony Romano

Whenever he visited, he would stroll around my yard and say, “Seems to be a hole right here needing something.” Inevitably we’d head off to the nursery, be gone for hours and come home with a trunk full of greenness that more than filled those holes. Now my trips to the nurseries are bittersweet. I am alone, and yet I am not. My father’s enthusiastic voice is always in my head, his childlike wonder forever with me. “Oh, that is a stupendous daylily. Truly outstanding! You NEED that daylily,” I hear him say emphatically. “Dad, it is gorgeous, but I do not have any room for that daylily,” I say back in my brain.

Mary Lynn's garden
Mary Lynn’s garden

I see him raise his eyebrows in disbelief and say, “So make room. There is always room for one more flower.”

And he’s right. So I buy it. And I make room in my garden for one more flower. It is gorgeous. It is stupendous. And it is good for my soul.

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