My Grandmother’s Garden

Excerpt from Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! ~ Notes from a Gloucester Garden, Chapter 22 ~ “My Grandmother’s Garden.”

Mimi, Kim, LivMy grandmother Mimi, just before she passed away, me, and daughter Liv

In the early 1960s my grandparents purchased (for the amazing sum of seven hundred dollars!) a picturesque half-acre lot with private beach rights on Cape Cod. Their dream was to build a cottage on the tall bluff overlooking the bay. Coincidentally, my grandmother continued to build their home in successive seven hundred dollar increments. Seven hundred dollars paid for digging the cellar, the next for pouring the cement for the foundation, and seven hundred dollars paid to frame the house. My grandfather finished the remaining work, and they were still building the cottage when we began to spend our summers there. He always had a hammer in one hand and a fistful of nails in the other, and I was thrilled to follow him about holding the nails.

My grandparents worked hard and created wonderful homes they generously shared. While still a young mother and throughout her life, my grandmother taught ceramics at the pottery studio our grandfather built for her. Working together, whatever they touched became transformed into something beautiful. Their homes had an enchanting and joyful atmosphere, or perhaps it just seems that way, recalled from a childhood of fond memories. When I was making plans to attend art school in Boston, my grandmother shared with me her portfolio from Parsons School of Design. I had come to spend the weekend to help her close down the house for the winter. There, in her garage, tucked in an old cupboard, she carefully pulled out a well-worn, though neatly arranged, portfolio filled with her watercolors and sketches. Imagine, keeping her portfolio safe all those years, possibly with the hope of communicating some part of her earlier self to one of her grandchildren.

Eventually, their gray-shingled summer dream cottage was made inviting by a screened porch, blue painted shutters, and a white picket fence. A dooryard flower garden was planted in front, and around back a vegetable and flower garden were sited atop the cliff overlooking the bay. A narrow, sandy path bordered with deliciously fragrant wild beach roses led from the garden to the steep stairs descending to the beach. A weathered picket fence and rickety salvaged gate connected to a wooden archway enclosed the flower garden. By mid-summer the entryway to the garden was embowered with a cloud of sky blue morning glories. Situated in a haphazard manner outside the gated garden were wind- and weatherworn 1920s bamboo armchairs and matching comfy chaise lounge. On some days we would play imaginary children’s games there in her garden overlooking the sea, and on other days we would draw and paint, make clay things from clay foraged from the bluff, and catch fat, helpless toads. I helped my grandmother plant hollyhocks and marguerites and marigolds. The colors, so vividly clear and fresh; flowers growing by the sea appear even more beautiful, perhaps from the ambient light reflected off the water.

Weather permitting, we usually served dinner on the porch. All the porch furniture was painted my grandmother’s signature blue. We ate at a long table with a pretty white-on-white embroidered cloth and round crystal rose bowl full of whatever flowers we had collected that day. We would have family feasts in the fading rosy light, memorable dinners of freshly boiled lobsters and mountains of steamed clams, buttery and sweet corn-on-the-cob, freshly picked vegetables and fruit, and ice cream.

Blissfully lying in bed early in the morning, I recall hearing the soft cries of the Mourning Doves and the cheery calls of the Bobwhites, mingled with the inviting sound of the surf. From my bedroom window I could look out across the garden to the bay and see the ships and sailboats coming and going in the sharply sparkling sea. The transcendent harmonies of the surrounding undulating sea-rhythms and shifting light, the blend of flower fragrances, and birdsongs created the desire to in turn provide similar experiences for our children.

Some years later and newly married, my husband and I were visiting my grandmother at her Cape house. We sat with her in the living room listening to her usual captivating tales, and told her our plans for our new life together. My husband later remarked to me how beautiful she looked. Mimi was wearing a summer shift in a lovely shade of French blue, seated in a chair slipcovered in a blue floral print, with the shimmering azure sea framed by the window behind her, her china blue eyes gazing serenely back at us.

My Garden—like the Beach—

Denotes there be—a Sea—

That’s Summer—

Such as These—the Pearls

She fetches—such as Me

—Emily Dickinson

Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! sells for only $15.00 on my publisher’s website, which is a $2o.00 value off the list price of $35.00.

About Kim Smith

Currently creating documentary films about the Monarch Butterfly, Black Swallowtail Butterfly, and Gloucester's Feast of St. Joseph. Landscape designer for the Gloucester Harbor Walk Gardens. Designer, lecturer, author, illustrator, photographer. Visit my blog for more information about my landscape and interior design firm- kimsmithdesigns.wordpress.com. Good Morning Gloucester daily contributor. Author/illustrator "Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! Notes from a Gloucester Garden"
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21 Responses to My Grandmother’s Garden

    • Kim Smith says:

      Thanks Paul–Liv was not happy in the wind but I treasure this photo just because it is of the three of us.

      Working on my new website and finding lots of treasures in old photo albums. Get ready for selfies from the 1980s!

  1. This is a wonderful book to read on a snowy day or a lazy summer day. Yesterday, a snowy day, my copy happened to open at the chapter ~ “My Grandmothers Garden”. So that’s where I began. The poems ~ so perfectly chosen ~ the gentle flower drawings ~ quietly lay on the pages. The descriptions take you to a place of pause thinking “where could I put a moon flower”. I did not want to read beyond two chapters because I do not want the book to end. Then I realized this is a reference book as well and I will be reading it on a lazy summer day ~ my butterflies, orange wine and me.

    • Kim Smith says:

      I am so touched Mary by what you wrote. Thank you.

      I wrote Oh Garden for new and seasoned gardeners, and for my children.The trend for so many years in landscaping has been towards uniformity. The joy gleaned from creating a garden paradise can be so much more than today’s standardized and scentless norm–and you very much understand that.

  2. Fredrik Bodin says:

    Great story Kim. My parents, a New Yorker and a Texan, honeymooned on Cape Cod. I go to Eastham every Christmas Eve to be with Janet’s family.

  3. Dave Moore says:

    Ah the 60′s and what a great picture and story behind it…:-)
    For your memories and trip back Music (1957 classic)
    Patti Page – Old Cape Cod
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xLnRyGnB2u0

    All that we are is the result of what we have thought. -Buddha

  4. Tim Holloran says:

    Great story! I wish you would mention the town where this took place. It could have been almost anywhere, but I kind of envision it being Truro. We spend a lot of time in Provincetown in the summer, and we love every minute of it. Thanks for sharing this story!

    • Kim Smith says:

      Thank you Tim, I am so glad you enjoyed. Yes, it could be practically anywhere on Cape Cod and I love Truro and Provincetown, too. My Grandmother’s cottage was in Dennis, on the bay side. We spent summers there until I was 12, and then moved there year round.

  5. Fredrik Bodin says:

    Also, thanks Kim for sharing some personal family history, and perhaps a large part of you personal inspiration. Very rich descriptions. I wish you were coming to the GMG Party early, you’re been so helpful in the past. Lois Lane (Donna Ardizzoni) has stepped up to lend a hand, and others are welcome to do the same.

    • Kim Smith says:

      Yes my mom, too, very much.

      Fred I have to work Friday!! but will try my hardest to get their early–I just don’t want to promise anything. Usually I clean up during the parties and will be sure to keep on top of that–no worries!!

  6. Lovely story, Kim! And a GREAT photo to boot! I am now just waiting on the 1980s from you! See you soon!

    • Kim Smith says:

      Thank you Hannah–very sweet of you to say. Yes, 80s selfies coming, just need a few minutes to upload. xx See you soon and emailing you both on how to take care of that giant silk moth cocoon.

  7. tuf says:

    TUFFY SAYS ” THAT KIMS A HOT MAMA ” MERRY CHRISTMAS !!!!!!

    • Kim Smith says:

      Merry Christmas to you Tuffy! I hope you are coming to the party tonight. Working all day and won’t be able to get there early. If not coming, hoping to run into you before you head south for the winter!

  8. tuf says:

    Thanks Kim ! I am heading into boston tonight to the wang theatre with a group . If I hadn’t made previous plans , I would have loved to see all the fine folks that will be at the GMG PARTY TONIGHT. Stay warm , have fun and give Joey a big hug for me !!!!! best tuf

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