In early Spring 2009 I received an e-mail from a woman from Ohio (Barbara). Barbara said she had bad luck in the past finding a local landscaper to clean up her mother’s yard. She was specifically looking for a woman owned landscaping company and although she didn’t think she would find one she was very surprised to discover one in her mother’s hometown. After a phone call and a site visit later, I assured Barbara that her mother would be in good hands.
I had seen the property beforehand since this is the same road to get to my son’s school. I never knew that the house was occupied by an elderly woman. The property was maintained monthly by relatives who had to make a two hour commute. The yard work would take most of the day and not leave much for family time. Having lost her husband in his thirties, Barbara’s mother Olga found peace in creating a garden that bloomed all season long. But as the golden years approached, she didn’t have the strength for the upkeep.
Our first task was to clean out all the beds and eventually start removing dead plants. Ten visits and 50 bags later, the yard was transformed. The beds were edged, overgrown shrubs were pruned and a hazardous chestnut tree was cut. The neighbors would come by and thank us and tell Olga that her yard was coming together again. Unfortunately, Olga wanted us to keep things the way they were and was not happy that Barbara hired us to clean up the yard.
Barbara and I had great ideas for Olga’s yard. The creation of a 3 ft tall garden bed on the side to plant her favorite flowers. She loved peonies and bleeding hearts. I checked in on her in the winter of 2010 during a snowstorm. She had a suspicious cough and I called her family to notify them. I then took her to her doctor. She had pneumonia and I brought her back home and offered to pick up her antibiotics. Sadly, in the beginning of spring of 2010, Olga passed away. Her peonies bloomed and so did her favorite rhododendron. At her burial, the flowers from her garden were cut and each person was given one to place on top of her casket.
Although it was not part of our scope of work, after Olga’s death we helped bring everything down from the attic and into the garage so that the family can sort through the piles of paperwork, furniture and family heirlooms. Items were tagged for hauling away to the dump and we picked it up when we were in the area. It took about four months to have the house cleared. Eventually it was sold in the summer. I was glad that we were able to help a deserving family.
In the end, the biggest challenge for me was not the detail work, but trying to preserve Olga’s independence. Barbara warned me that her mother would resist having any plant material removed or pruned. I had to try my best to get the job done. Once a week, the crew worked gingerly and the project took longer than expected. There were times when Olga would reprimand me for pruning her overgrown rhododendrons and so work had to be postponed. Barbara would then call her mother and encourage her to let us continue.
Eventually Olga warmed up to me. She showed me her gardening books with her side notes. She missed her husband and gardening for Olga was an escape. Watching the crocuses, tulips and peonies bloom brought her happiness. Giving freshly cut flowers to a neighbor or stranger, as I learned later, was what she enjoyed most. I hope she was able to see her garden bloom once again before she got her set of wings.
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