A Plant Named George

Monday, August 24, 2015

A Springtime (imaginary) tea party in Sky Meadows, Washington.
My Dad died in April. Having never lived together since I was a baby, the past decade we shared a duplex, my husband and I upstairs, and he in the downstairs flat. When we moved in, gardening was a new adventure, something we both looked forward to. We dreamed of English roses (him), and tomatoes (both of us), and scarlet runner beans (him), and banana trees (me). All of these dreams became reality over the years. Together, our lack of self-control when it came to buying tomato plants, was compounded. We egged each other on at the nursery. The weirder the name, the more excitement. There's a tomato called Bloody Butcher. We HAVE to grow that. And Mortgage Lifter. Well, we could certainly use that. And who can say no to Dr. Wyche's? The first year, I think we grew 12 tomato plants which all grew as tall as trees.

As my Dad's health and energy waned over the years, the result of 50 years of smoking, the garden became more and more my domain, but he always kept his flower box fresh with seasonal flowers and we spent hours upon hours sitting in two chairs in front of it talking about women's tennis and cheddar cheese and international politics and English league soccer and the nature of reality and more than anything, his life story. A glorious story full of unlikely adventures in an English orphanage before, during, and after WWII and stints living in Saudi Arabia and Seattle and Indonesia.

St. George Runner Beans, made as favors for my Dad's memorial service.
In October of 2013 my Dad became a grandad at the age of 82 and I became a mother at the age of 39. It was another great adventure to share. We talked about planting a celebratory Springtime garden while I was pregnant but once the new George arrived that plan fell to the wayside with the reality of living with a newborn. We did have a lot of fun in the garden last Summer though, watching this new life waking up to the world, the thrill of sitting in the grass and feeling the breeze and watching the way the light played on different plants.

The Georges and Papa and Dutch and Mugsy in front of the future site of the "Dad" garden.
After my Dad died I immediately started thinking about what I could plant in his honor. I figured there must be a "George" plant out there and started my research. The more I looked, the more George plants I found, and the idea grew to create an entire George garden. At present I have 14 George plants and have my eye on several more. My hope is that this Fall I will create a small garden with a brick paved area for a Lutyens bench, the king of the garden to be the King George Rhododendron, which is of the Loderi variety. These Rhodies are new to me, with large, tropical looking leaves. This particular variety is very kingly with flowers the size of HUGE lilies. And they're fragrant!

Lutyens Bench, an English classic.
Rhododendron 'Loderi King George' planted in The Portland Nursery parking lot, Stark St location.
I might relax the rules later but right now I'm enjoying the challenge of being totally limited in my plant choice. I will permit a "Georges" plant but won't go so far as to allow a "Georgianna".  Is it possible to create something that actually looks good or will it be a clashing, will-nilly mess? Will there be unexpected surprises? One of the lilies I bought is looking like it might actually bloom at the same time as the asters are blooming. That would be a refreshing purple combo, very welcome in the dry and sepia final days of Summer. There are so many George Spring bulbs that I'm pretty sure the garden will look beautiful in the Spring (what garden doesn't look beautiful in the Portland Spring?) but with only one George hebe and one heather that I've found, will I be able to create any sort of Winter structure, and if not, can I make up for it with some pots or sculpture? This mission has really taught me how much goes into garden design, something pretty new to me since most of the gardening I've done has evolved very slowly according to my whims and wallet.

Regardless, I'm looking forward to having a place to commune with my Dad come Spring and to reflect on all our happy porch chats. I'll see you in the garden, Dad.


  1. What a lovely dedication to your Dad . I'm going to be looking for George's for you too !

    1. Oh, thank you Linda! The more the merrier. This hunt has sent me down all sorts of weird plant rabbit holes. The world of daylilies for instance is kind of nutty. I had no idea that single bulbs could fetch $60+. I didn't buy that one. YET ;-)

  2. We have a Loderi King George Rhody. It's a beauty. Your dad sounds like a gem. So good that he got to meet his namesake. Plants are the very best way to memorialize special people. I'm sure your dad would be pleased.

    1. Thanks Ricki! It's great to hear a first hand report. This plant was #1 on my George list and sooo hard to track down. It's had a very rough Summer, not liking the heat, but hopefully it will rebound come Spring.

  3. I photographed a fundraising conference here recently. What a wonderful place for photos. I almost always hate being anywhere at 6am, but this breakfast event proved an exception. The manger and his staff from the event space were extremely professional.


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