My gardens are alive with memories of plants and people. When grandpa’s peonies bloom every June, deep-in-my-bones recollections come bubbling up.

Even as a toddler, I was irresistibly drawn to the gigantic compost pile inside a crumbling old stone foundation behind his barn. Lusciously fragrant, audaciously magenta peonies bloomed beside the steaming, teeming life-filled mound.

Maybe that’s where I caught the gardening bug so early on. My grandfather is long gone, but his peonies still bloom in my garden, and a good compost pile remains irresistibly attractive.

Indoors, you had to circle his heavy, claw-footed round dining table to get to the candy dish on the piano in the living room, a major attraction. In June – and in memory it was always June – a bounteous bouquet of peonies in a light blue glass vase always sat at the center of the table.

And now that blue vase sits, full of peonies, on my dining table, a most meaningful inheritance. See a photo published in Traditional Home Magazine


The gardens my Swedish immigrant grandfather kept on that steep little corner lot fed his large family through the Depression, World War II and into my teenage years.

I don’t recall him ever appearing at our house without a flat-bottomed wicker basket looped over his arm. It would be full of rhubarb, flowers, pickled beets, “newpotatoes,” (I still think of it as one word), whatever was in season. Nor was the basket empty when he returned home – there were always blueberries or leftover pie for breakfast. A good habit to inherit.


Early memories from the enclave where my father’s Italian family eventually settled after their 1903 emigration involve food and gardens too.

Climbing the Seckel pear and Italian prune plum trees in grandma’s front yard with my brothers, feeling deliciously naughty stuffing our faces with purloined fruits. Sweet peas, hens-and-chicks, sweet bottle cap-sized red raspberries and loooong family meals at a table squeezed inside the mossy shade of a narrow grape arbor.

After 70 years in this country, my two great aunts visited the home in the Lombardy hills they had left as children. They said nothing had changed. Even the rosemary bush outside the door was still there.

Aunt Rose did what any born gardener would do – she snitched a cutting, smuggled it home in a dirty sock and tended that evocative, sensory memory.

When she turned 100 she gave this rosemary plant to me. I love that my son roots cuttings from that plant and passes them on, with the story, to friends.