struggling to save my mother's heirloom, historical garden

kittysgardenJune 8, 2006

Gere's garden was established in 1945 by my mother, Kitty, as she coped with the tragic death of my parent's only child, a 7 year old son. Gere was hit by a truck, while riding on the handle bars of his friend's bike,and killed. He died in my father's arms.

After his death my mother transformed barren woods into an exquisite garden viewed by thousands of people from all walks of life and from many areas of the U.S. and other countries. Her garden was the chosen scene for hundreds of prom, wedding, graduation, Easter, Christmas, and any ocassion pictures. She lovingly and generously shared seeds, plants,shrubbery,cuttings, cut flowers, food and drinks, conversation, education and her stories of gardening with everyone who visited her including school children on field trips, Florida Master gardeners,the elderly from Dowling Park,visitors to town, etc. Her garden was featured on T.V. gardening programs from Jacksonville, Florida;in multiple newspapers and magazines.

Growing up in this beauty was very inspirational and enjoyable for me as a child. I was born almost one year after my brother's death. I learned to start new plants and enjoy their growth and beauty.

My mother passed away in March of 2005 just months short of her 90th birthday. In 2001,I took an early retirement from teaching school in Tallahassee, Florida to care for her and my currently 92 yr. old father in their home. They had been married 69 years and lived in the same house which had been remodeled over the years.

The tragedy I am facing now is keeping and maintaining this 70 year old heirloom garden loved and enjoyed by so many people all these years. During last years three hurricanes a 100 year old oak tree fell through three rooms of my parents home and damaged many of my mother's plants in the back garden area. We are just now getting the house repairs complete.

Over the years my mother dedicated her life to Gere's garden. She hardly ever went on vacations. From daylight to dark, in 8 degree to 100+plus degree weather she persevered to care for this lovely show place for everyone to enjoy.

Sadly my parents resources have been used up due to $70,000 a year caregiver costs for their 24 hour care in their home the past 6-8 years.

My parents gave so much of themselves to their community, state and nation and now no one seems to care about them.My father established the Florida Sherrif's Boys Ranch, the Stephen Foster Folk Festival, etc. He is in the National Jaycee Hall of Fame for all his wonderful volunteer work. No one locally seems to care about saving my mother's garden or their lovely home. My parents always gave to everyone and now when they need help where is help for them?

I am very sad now with our depleted resources struggling in my tiny north Florida hometown to maintain mother's heirloom garden.

I sometimes wonder if all her life's work was in vain. Why doesn't anyone care? The baby boomer and younger generations in this small town appear to be so focused on greed and money and themselves they don't care what happens to Kitty and Gere's garden. Not one person has even said "can I come help you water". Why? Has our country turned their backs on the elderly and all they dedicated their lives to?

In the 30's my father, the youngest clerk of the circuit court in the nation at the time, met with the Governor of Florida to help all the people(farmers, judges, etc.) save their homes and land. The same thing is happening now in my hometown due to rising property values. Where is someone to help my father save his home and land with this lovely heirloom garden?? My parents were honest, dedicated, Christian people who worked hard for all they had and gave much of it back to their community. This same community doesn't seem to care.

I keep praying but no one has come forward. Surely someone can help.


Only child and daughter

former 26 yr. veteran teacher of mentally, physically, emotionally challenged students; hospital/homebound students in the county k-12 grade; at-risk pregnant teens and teen parents; 9-12th grade life management teacher prior to retirement to focus on caring for my elderly parents

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sammie070502(PNW z8)

I'm sorry to hear of your difficulties in maintaining this garden. For sure, one of your upcoming challenges will be to figure out how to care for and maintain the garden in the long term. Are you considering forming a trust for it, or what will you do if you have to sell? These hard questions are probably even more pressing than your current maintenance woes.

But, about your current concerns...have you put out the word that you need help? You might try contacting your local garden club. I used to belong to a club that was affiliated with Garden Clubs of America. It was a service organization and so did take on community projects of different sorts. One year, a grant was offered, I think by Shell Oil, of matching funds for the restoration or renovation of a historic garden. Of course, the club had to justify the importance of the garden and the project had to pass a screening process. Just a thought.

Also, although it might not be financially viable to save the property, you might find solace in moving some of the plants to protected homes--share them with friends or relatives who are avid gardeners. If there is an heirloom seed company near you or a botanical garden that would be interested in heirlooms, they might like to save, propagate, and distribute the seeds--thereby ensuring the life of some of your treasured plants.

My advice is to get on the phone and let people know you need help--people feel weird about asking, especially when doing so might sound insulting. Check out the yellow pages for garden clubs--there will be several, all affiliated with different national organizations. Will your local historical society help? Many communities and bigger corporations host clean-up days during which volunteers go out into the neighborhood to do chores for for those who can't--make sure they know about you.

Good luck. I hope things look up for you.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2006 at 3:24PM
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ginger_nh(z4 NH)

Dear Jill,
Have you contacted the Master Gardeners program to inquire if they might want to take your Mother's garden on as a teaching/demonstration garden? How about the Birds and Blooms magazine--posting a plea there? With many retirees looking for meaning in their lives, maybe some snowbirds would help you. Post something in the Florida Hort. Society newsletter, for instance, or the Fl. Historical Society. You would, of course, have to give up a bit of control over the garden if an outside agent came to the rescue, but it might be a possible way of saving it.

Post on the Florida Gardening Forum here at Garden Web, as well. Say where your town is to garner the interest of gardeners in your area.

Times are changing; there seems to be much less interest in and respect for the past, for history, antiques, and so on. Volunteering is down as is membership in service organizations. This is the way it is across our nation and in the other Western nations as well, from what I read, gather, and experience. You are not alone in feeling bereft. Still, things do happen and turn out for the best, so have faith and keep trying.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2006 at 8:51PM
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what a heartfelt story! it's sad to think with all those seniors in florida, that the garden lovers wouldn't be making a quest to save this garden. maybe if you added a putting green.........(very sadly tongue in cheek)

    Bookmark   June 9, 2006 at 8:24AM
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jannie(z7 LI NY)

I would also contact local high schools. My local HS has several clubs for teens that like to do projects like restore old homes and gardens. The staff also assigns "community service" as a punishment for kids who cut class and misbehave in other ways. Also, when my daughter was making her Confirmation at church, each child was told to do a "good deed" as preparation for this Sacrament. Hope this all works out for you. It certainly sounds like a "labor of love."

    Bookmark   June 9, 2006 at 10:43AM
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JoanofPa(z6 Pa)

I agree, try every garden and nursery organization within 50 miles. You may be surprised to learn there are groups who do volunteer work along those lines. I sure hope you have luck, it sounds beautiful, wish you had pictures to post.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2006 at 8:45PM
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harleylady(PNW/USDA 8b/Sunset 6)

I can't add to the excellent suggestions already given, but just wanted to wish you the best of luck, and if I lived in your area, I'd be there in a flash to lend a hand.

    Bookmark   June 14, 2006 at 8:26PM
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ginger_nh(z4 NH)

OK, so where are you, kittysgarden? A one-sided conversation is not very fulfilling.

    Bookmark   June 14, 2006 at 10:27PM
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