My grandmother was an extraordinary gardener. People often said that she was capable of growing a lush living thing from a dead brown stick. She definitely had a green thumb. People often stopped in from of her home to look at the flowers that she had cultivated. A visit to her house almost always included a tour of her gardens. Amazingly it was not just a boring ritual but a great adventure seeing the wondrous things that she had done. She always claimed that plants given by a friend or family member were the best and the most likely to grow. I don’t know if she ever actually went to a plant nursery to purchase anything. Instead she transplanted this from one person and that from another. I know that she often gave things to my mother. When Mama was moving from our long time home in Overbrook she hastily dug up several specimens that had come from my grandmother and took them to her new house where they grew for years.
My mother wanted me to come get some of the heritage plants but I never seemed to get around to doing so. Nevertheless I always remembered what my grandmother had told me about handing plants down from one person to another. At my home on Anacortes near Hobby Airport I had some aspidistra from Mike’s Aunt Elsie, pretty red perennials from a neighbor, bulbs from my mother-in-law, and lilies from my grandma Ulrich. My very favorite hand me down plant was a fern.
It was December 20, 1973, when I received the fern as a gift from my dear friend, Linda. My daughter, Catherine, was born on that day and Linda arrived at the hospital carrying a huge pot of the frilly green plant. She told me that it was from New Orleans and she assured me that it would grow like wildfire in our humid Houston weather. I loved it immediately because I had always had trouble growing most types of fern in our clay soil. Besides I always associated it with Linda and my sweet little baby girl whose birth it celebrated.
At first I kept the fern in the pot just the way Linda had given it to me but before long it had become root bound and I knew that I needed to do something to save the plant. I decided to put some of it in a flower box in front of my house. I stuck it in a corner and pretty much forgot about it. Before I knew it the fern had taken over the entire area. It looked quite pretty there but I had to periodically thin it out. Since I had a huge oversized back yard I created new beds in which to plant the ever expanding fern. It grew virtually anywhere that I put it. It filled areas where nothing else grew. I always thought of it as being almost magical and of course it was symbolic of Linda and my little Catherine.
The years passed and Linda and I kept up our friendship. Her boys and my girls became like brothers and sisters. We always had fun together and our visits were filled with laughter and non stop conversations. The children grew up and one by one moved away from home. Mike and I still lived where the fern grew in profusion. I couldn’t believe how much of it I had. Like the wonderful times that I shared with Linda the fern filled the nooks and crannies of my yard.
Eventually my neighborhood began to change. Many of the people who had been there when my children were growing up had moved away. Linda had lived for a time in California and when she returned to Houston she purchased a home way across town. We still got together but not as often as we once had. Our kids were busy building their own lives and so our gatherings centered around holidays and milestones like weddings and births. Mike and I finally decided that it was time for us to try a new place as well. We found a house that we liked in Pearland and moved from the home whose rooms had seen a lifetime of experiences with our children and with friends like Linda.
It was the dead of winter when we moved. The fern had frozen that year but I knew from experience that the fronds would push up from the earth when the weather became warm again. At the time of the move I didn’t think to dig up some of the roots to take with me to the new house. It was not until summer when I realized that I had left behind the fern that had been so magical for me. I tried to find some that was similar at different nurseries but nobody had what I wanted. I suppose that I might have knocked on the door of my old home and asked if I might dig some up but somehow that just didn’t seem right. I simply felt sad that I no longer had the fern that had represented so much to me. Whenever we visited New Orleans I found myself quietly looking for some of the fern at places like the market in the French Quarter. It was all to no avail.
Last summer Mike and I were in New Orleans with two of my grandchildren when by happenstance we noticed that Linda was posting photos of herself with her husband, Bill, and granddaughter, Peyton, at some of the local sites. We planned to meet up and had a great time having dinner and then riding on the steamboat. The children really enjoyed being together as well. It was like old times when our own kids had been young. I was feeling nostalgic and I spoke of the fern to Linda and told her how sad I was that I had forgotten to bring some with me. At first she wasn’t sure what I was talking about but eventually she knew exactly what kind of fern I wanted.
This past Saturday my daughter gave a big party to celebrate my eldest grandson’s graduation from high school. I was ecstatic when Linda and Bill, showed up for the shindig. We enjoyed talking but mostly I was touched by the knowledge that we had shared so many special moments over the years. Linda is one of those people on whom I can count no matter what and it did my heart good to see her once again on such an important occasion. Imagine my surprise when she announced that she had brought me some fern from New Orleans! It was so wonderful that I thought that I was going to cry. I tried to tell others just how I was feeling but I sensed that they didn’t quite understand just how symbolic that fern was to me.
As Linda was leaving I followed her to her car and there in a beautiful blue pot was the exact fern for which I had been searching for ten years now. I know it may sound crazy but I truly believe that my luck is going to improve now that me and my favorite plant have been reunited. It’s already looking quite happy on my back patio, especially with all of the rain we have had. I one day plan to put some into the ground and just let it go the way I did in my other home. I feel content now. The fact that Linda remembered illustrates just how wonderful she is. There are few friends as considerate and generous. That fern is love and it makes my heart swell. Grandma was right. There is nothing quite like the gift of a living thing from someone who really matters. Linda is back with me day in and day out with that fern and I wouldn’t feel better if someone had given me a million bucks. When I get more of the plant I think I need to pass it on. I don’t ever again want to lose my special gift and I won’t if I share it with others.