Higueras, duraznos, naranjas, hierbabuena, Piquin, and romero are just a few of the plants that come to mind when I think of my mother’s gardens throughout the years. Everywhere she’s ever lived she’s left a tropical paradise behind. None more so than at the last house we shared before I went my own way.
Picture purple leaves, sprawling through the ground, greens of every tone dancing in the wind, running parallel to the curving sidewalk on either side, trees taller than grown men whispering in your ears, roses by the dozen lining the entrance of our home, the scent of orange and peach, rosemary and mint, greeting you the moment you walked in past our iron gate. That was the home we shared while I was finishing school and getting ready for the rest of my life. It was also the place where I finally understood why my mother is so meticulous about her gardening.
You see, for her, gardening is more than growing plants; it’s about planting seeds and leaving something behind. Something that represents who you are, that let’s people know you were here in this world, and that you cared enough to leave your plot in the world a little better off than you found it. That is the explanation she gave me.
Knowing life in the rancho would not be for her, uncertain about which part of the States she’d end up in, and nostalgic about leaving her parent’s behind, my mother packed up what little clothes she had, prepared to meet up with the coyota that was crossing her over, and walked up to my grandfather to ask for his blessing. He obliged and gave her a piece of advice she never forgot: plant mija, wherever you are remember to plant; that is our legacy; that is what we will leave behind.
Poverty was the perpetrator behind her departure, and my mother had spent enough of her life away from her parent’s to know that the tall tales of abundance in the United States were exactly that – fables. At the age of five she had been given away to her mother’s sister who lived in another town. Try as she had, moving back home was never possible until she turned 15. By then it was too late – she was a stranger in her own home. In leaving, her goal was not to obtain great wealth, but to earn enough money to raise a family and send money back home to Mexico.
She did both, even when what she could send was little more than a letter letting her parents know she was still alive. Building an empire was never an option.
Over the years her gardens became more elaborate. Each one incorporated more techniques and precision to the process. Five gallon paint cans, old pots, plastic containers of all shapes and sizes were recruited to serve as incubators for new plant life. As the foliage began to pour over their containers they were either replanted on solid ground or given away as gifts. At one point, my mother became so popular for selling peach plants at her garage sales that neighbors would just randomly show up to ask if she had any more.
When my parent’s moved out of that home, just a few years ago, it took an entire 24-foot U-Haul truck to transport less than half of her plants.
Almost four decades later, my mother is once again beginning the process of leaving her mark in the home she was finally able to have constructed from scratch. Her garden is once again beginning to take shape, and despite the added years my mother is still as meticulous about her planting as ever.
I’m excited to see her efforts come to fruition, even though in my heart I now know her most far-reaching undertaking has been to plant in us the inspiration to leave behind a legacy of our own.