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Sentimental Specimens

By Timmy Jo Given (timmijoJune 15, 2011
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Adults often long for the plants of their childhood. Perhaps it is a special type of flower that Grandma grew, or a vegetable patch just like Daddy had that replays itself in our minds. Sooner or later, we set out to possess those plants of long ago because of the nostalgia.

Gardening picture

This yearning seems strong in those for whom the green thumb was passed down. For others, the desire is vague until some event finds them face to face with the plants of their youth:

"Aunt Mary had a big Christmas Cactus just like that in her room!"

"Uncle Ted had a speckled bush just like that one!"

"My goodness, I haven't seen a plant like that in 50 years. Are they still around?"

"We had that kind of tree in the front yard when I lived in town!"

Why do we want to own the specimens of long ago? Maybe we want to be transported back to a different world when things were less complicated, when information overload was not the norm, and when watching tomatoes ripen in the sun was a worthy undertaking.

Or perhaps we'd like to remember a loved one who has gone on.

In some cases, our sentimental specimens are not hard to find. For example, my mother and father always planted our small beachfront home in tomatoes. Mom set great store in those tomato plants. She took care of them faithfully, reaping the reward for her work by summer's end.Tomato cluster ripening

Paired with the tomato plants were Mom's sweet bell pepper plants. Planted alongside the tomatoes, they filled the back yard with lovely red and green accents.Large, square green bell pepper

I didn't think much about Mom's garden at the time; my head was filled with other things like school, friends, boys, and bike riding. To me, vegetable gardening was a quirky thing that got Mom and Dad all excited each summer.

A drive up to Tremont, Pennsylvania to visit my maternal grandparents, Mammy and Pappy Freeman, is where I observed the same phenomenon: a yard full of red tomatoes and green peppers. Oh, so this is why Mom and Dad do the same thing, I thought. It's in the genes.

Mammy and Pappy had a bit of Pennsylvania Dutch in their backgrounds. Mammy used the peppers to make Pepper Cabbage, a delightful side dish of finely shredded cabbage and green pepper bits in vinegar water. And she may have canned the tomatoes—I'm not sure. I was just a child.

Mom, on the other hand, did not can tomatoes, but she and Dad enjoyed them raw sprinkled with salt and pepper as well as cooked.

Myself, I did not acquire an appreciation for raw tomatoes until well into my teens and didn't like cooked tomatoes until I was in my twenties. These days, tomatoes and peppers are a no-brainer: of COURSE I must buy them and sink them into the garden each year. It's what Mom and Dad did. It's a family tradition.

My childhood beachfront home also had Mimosa trees here and there. The trees grew well in the sandy soil. To observe the pink, delicate blooms was a true escape; not only did I adore them, but I picked one every now and again to brush it against my cheek like a soft downy feather.Close up of pink mimosa flower What a burst of beauty in an otherwise dusty neighborhood.

After I became an adult and moved away, my mother was diagnosed with a terminal illness. I visited her as often as I could. She moved to a nice apartment complex during those last few years of her life. When I drove across the Chesapeake Bay to see Mom's new apartment for the first time, I was happy to notice Mimosa trees lining the hilly drive. On the way home, I made sure to hop out of the car and collect a handful of seed pods before departing.

In Mom's memory, I started six Mimosa seeds in cups the next spring. One of the trees made it. Eleven years later, that tree stands as a beautiful specimen in the middle of my yard today, its significance known only to me.Dense growth of mimosa tree

It's not hard to find tomatoes and green peppers, and Mom's memorial Mimosa is well-established in my front yard, but I have yet to acquire a Catalpa tree, another specimen that graced my childhood home on the beach.Large Southern Catalpa tree in the sun

When we were kids, we called it a "String Bean Tree". It's also known as an "Indian Cigar Tree." I loved the large, plate-sized leaves, the white shower of petals in late springtime, and the long "beans" that followed in the summer and fall.

Late one spring, reaching impulsively inside our thickly-leafed Catalpa, I was surprised to find an egg! It was a hard-boiled, painted Easter egg! My big sister and I laughed when we realized that the egg was left over from our family Easter egg hunt from the previous month. Guess what? I ate the egg!

Now that I'm grown and live in Delaware, I see Catalpa trees growing everywhere and long to go buy one at the nursery. That hasn't happened yet, but last winter I DID pick some dry pods from a neighborhood Catalpa tree to get the seeds.Handful of dry Catalpa tree seeds in fuzzy pods

I used to love the challenge of raising trees from seed when my kids were small, but a Catalpa started now might take many more years to become a majestic specimen. I may never see its full glory.

Nevertheless, the verdict is in: Just as with the tomatoes, peppers, and Mimosa, I cannot live without a Catalpa tree. It's in the genes. It's nostalgia. It's for Mom.


More information about the plants in this article:


  About Timmy Jo Given  
Timmy Jo GivenAs a gardener and photographer, Timmy Jo enjoys documenting nature's wonders, especially those found right in her own back yard. When not elbow-deep in soil, Timmy Jo carries around a Pentax digital camera with vintage film lenses attached. Follow her on Google.

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Discussion about this article:
SubjectTopic StarterRepliesViewsLast Post
Memorials jazzy1okc 3 12 Jun 24, 2011 7:16 PM
Catalpa joeyramone 1 18 Jun 22, 2011 5:48 PM
In the Blood eskarp 2 7 Jun 21, 2011 4:00 PM
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