“There’s Rosemary, that’s for remembrance; pray you, love, remember” is the famous line spoken by Ophelia during Hamlet and rosemary has long been associated with memories of the departed. It was used historically in ancient Rome at funerals. Rosemary was often planted at tombs to be an emblem of eternity. It was also thought to be a protector from disease and it was said to ward off plague. In Britain, in more recent times, mourners were sometimes given sprigs of rosemary to cast in the coffin to signify that they would not forget their dear friend. It has happier meanings too as it was often put in wedding bouquets, this time, to symbolise fidelity. A lover might send rosemary to let the other person know of their constancy and that they are thinking of them. The link between the two meanings and occasions is eloquently summed up by Sir Thomas Moore when he wrote, “Rosemary, it is the herb sacred to remembrance and therefore, to friendship”.
There are many plants which evoke precious memories
I suggest that many herb, plants and flowers, with their powerful scents and natural beauty can evoke precious memories. You may remember times that you picked roses for your mother, grew sweet peas with your grandfather or simply took a walk with a friend and saw the bluebells. That plant or flower becomes forever linked with memory and the love you feel for that person. As a nursery owner, I am so fortunate to connect with many customers on a daily basis. Those customers can often become friends over the years and here are two plants which will always make me think of two special people.
Beauty of Bath Apples
When Mrs Pilbrow’s daughter brought me in some Beauty of Bath apples from the tree in her garden it was a poignant moment. Mrs Pilbrow had supported us from when we first set up our nursery nearly 20 years ago. It was a small second hand shed then, with an ice-cream tub as a till, a couple of display tables we had constructed from discarded crates and our daughter in the pram beside us as we potted up. Mrs Pilbrow is one of those ‘gentle ladies’. She was of the generation who always wore a skirt and blouse. She had a round face, glasses, hair always neat and a smile that lit up her eyes. She always had a tale to tell and we had one or two conversations about our husbands which made me laugh! As our nursery grew we ‘expanded’ by buying a ‘brand new’ summer house which we used to display our locally grown vegetables and fruit. She came bearing gifts every year. She produced a box of hand-picked Beauty of Bath apples from her tree as a gift for us to sell. She always said that she had so many that she and her husband could not eat them all and she didn’t want them to go to waste. Beauty of Bath are not seen for sale much now. It is because they are often small and, although they are a heavy cropper they do not have a long shelf life.
As the years pass we all get older
Of course, as years pass, so we all get older. Our children, once in the pram, are at high school and college. For Mrs Pilbrow it was her husband who struggled with his health first and, as it was him who brought her in the car, she called at the nursery less and less. Once he passed away she missed him terribly. When her daughter brought her to visit it was good to greet an old friend. I am so sad that Mrs Pilbrow passed away just before lockdown. I miss her. Whenever I saw her it brought a smile to my face and a lift in my heart. She cheered up my day. Whenever I hear of beauty of bath apples I can only think of her. Their smell, their taste, their texture and that summer smell in the air all bring her kindly smile back to me.
Another person I have been so privileged to know is Richard Ford. Although I knew him only as ‘The Hosta Man’ for years. He and his wife used to pop into the nursery. Those were the days when Paul and I would be working all hours in our 8ft x 10ft potting shed together as we potted, weeded and pruned. He complimented us on our healthy plants and any compliment was gratefully received.
Kindness and Modesty
The ‘Hosta man’ was not only kind but also very modest. He mentioned, in passing, how he and his wife had had a nursery and how they had grown hostas before they retired. He empathised with how hard we were working and laughed about having the children around us while we worked. He reminisced about their own children growing up on their nursery. But it was not for a few years that he dropped into the conversation that they were multiple Chelsea Gold medal winners. It must have been so tempting to point our mistakes but he never did. Instead he preferred to ask about plant trends, how trade was and to recommend that we should sell teas and coffees as they had found that their customers loved it. Imagine my delight when, having just installed a ‘help yourself coffee vending machine’ they were our first customers to sit under our gazebo at the nursery.
The last time I saw Richard we had a cup of tea together at the nursery and he gave me the book he had written about Hostas. It is a treasure on my bookshelf. He was unwell and I think we both knew it was a parting gift. Every time I look at a hosta of any sort I think of him. There always seemed to be so much to talk about and my abiding memory is of laughter and enthusiasm. I sometimes half expect him to walk through the gate.
Holding people in our hearts and minds
The joy of meeting someone like this is that you pass the time of day, share ups and downs and there is no agenda, no judgement, no sense of responsibility. There are just a few moments from time to time. As the years pass you become close without even being aware of it. As human beings we are privileged to be able to forge these links with others and they are never gone. We will always be able to hold them in our hearts and minds and the plants and flowers help us to remember them.
The Flower Writer