I discovered my love of gardening with my Grandmother. Now, you need to know my grandmother was a powerhouse. A tiny women who wheeled great respect. Alexandra (Billie) Anderson, known to all as Mrs. Anderson, ran Ten Gables Resort and Golf Course in Sundridge, Ontario by herself for many years. Long before Women’s Lib, grandmother was a business woman, a mother, and a wife. Go Grandma!
I loved my time spent there with her. There was no getting around my grandmother. She ruled! Stand up straight, be proud of being tall. Don’t sit on the counters, counters are for glasses. Respect the family – she was all about family and tradition. There were strict rules on what was to be served to her guests, how it was to be served, how a bed was made, how to treat a guest and yes, guests were treated like royalty, and they became family. A past guest told me how nervous she was to meet my Grandmother. This lovely lady had been invited to Ten Gables to dine with her fiancees family, and she was more nervous to meet Mrs. Anderson than to meet her new family. Grandmother had that effect on people.
For me, she was a wonderful woman who shared her knowledge of life. Okay, she scared me a bit too! One of my earliest memories of gardening with grandmother was planting pansies in the front garden. Trays of beautiful coloured pansies sat waiting to go in the ground. We were surround by the pretty faces of purple, yellow, and red pansies. I was so excited to think I was old enough to help. I was only six or seven at the time. Grandmother took the time to show me how to get the pansies and rootball out of the container, gently pinching the plastic sides until the pansy roots dislodged. Of course, she made it look easy. Me, I pinched and then pulled and ended up with a handful of flower and no roots. It didn’t matter. This was planted along with the expertly planted pansies of my grandmother. Of course there was not chance mine would grow without roots, however not one word was said. I remember feeling such joy. I would check those pansies out every time we came to visit. I think mine had been removed as they started to wilt and fade, however I felt the magic in watching something I had planted, something I had been part of grow. I believe this was my true beginning as a gardener. I could feeling the Magic of the Flowers.
Ten Gables was magic in the winter. Fields of white, fluffy snow covered the golf course and the beautiful white house with the bright red shutters stood out in the landscape on top of the hill. It always felt like ‘coming home’. It wasn’t just an ‘in town home’ – the ones that look much the same as the next – Ten Gables was the ‘majestic house on the top of the hill’. I loved mornings at Ten Gables. In the winter, the bare stems of French Lilacs just outside the kitchen window would be covered with chick-a-dees that grandmother would feed sunflower seeds throughout the winter. Inside the house in the bay window of the family dining room, lived the most beautiful violets of every colour. Purple ones, ruffled ones, red ones, pink ones all with the most silky, soft leaves. I just loved to touch them. Grandmother had a knack for growing violets. It’s taken me years to piece together ‘her violet growing magic’. Ten Gables had a summer and winter kitchen. The summer kitchen was scary in the winter, closed off from the main house, dark, cold and very fragrant. As a child I wouldn’t go into the summer kitchen without a wingman – it was so scary. And the smell. It smelled like shit. Yes, I mean shit. Only later in life did I come to learn my grandmother steeped Sheep Manure Tea over the winter in the summer kitchen. Now, if you don’t know what Sheep Manure Tea is, it’s a bucket filled with half sheep shit, then topped off with water. It has an odor you can’t forget. This Sheep Manure Tea was my grandmother’s secret to her ‘Violet Growing Magic’. Stinky or not, it worked.
As soon as I was old enough, I started working at Ten Gables. Now you would think that being part of the family, might mean I would move into a high-ranking position. Something worthy of family standing. Nope. I started in the basement doing laundry. I was elevated to the position of dishwasher during the summer. I guess I had proven my worth as a basement dweller and when the big chance came to move up, I did. In truth, the dishwasher had quit and I was promoted. I can see your mind working. Dishwasher, not so bad. However there was ‘no dishwasher’. I was the dishwasher. Three wash sinks and even more drying racks. But I was moving up!!
Along with the role of laundry girl \ dishwasher, I was granted the position of Flower Arranger. Okay, I was really voluntold. My grandmother made flower arranging look so simple, I thought “how bad can this be”? Now you need to understand, there wasn’t just a few arrangements around the house, grandmother believed the house should be filled with flowers. Not just outside, but inside too. Large flower arrangements in the living room, smaller arrangements on all the dining room tables, something to say ‘welcome’ at the front door, an arrangement in the large family dining room, and even something for the office. Colourful containers of arrangements in all sizes, shapes, and forms, everywhere. It was my job to make them look inspiring. With pruners in hand, out I went once a week to cut flowers. And there were flowers to be cut. Fragrant cedar and lacy ferns to create the foundation for the beautiful flowers. The tall, stately Snapdragon; the beautiful white sphere blooms of Annabelle Hydrangea; the sweet smiling faces of pretty Pansies; fragrant noble French Lilac blooms; towering Gladiolas stems and flowers in late summer; annual Sweet Peas with their colourful balloon-shaped blooms and swirling tendrils; the bright yellow and golds heads of a summer Marigold; crisp red, lacelike Geranium; the magenta purple tissue-paper ruffles of shrub roses; and beautiful pink shapely petunias.
While I didn’t understand then why “I had to do all the flower arrangements”, I’ve come to learn flowers have magic. My grandmother passed along her flower magic to me, something for which I will forever be grateful. I grew up at Ten Gables in those gardens with all those flowers. I truly believe, in My Grandmother’s Garden I Found the Magic!