My wonderful, clever mother, Doris, grew up in a small, three-story apartment building, owned by her parents, on New Main Street in south Yonkers. My grandfather’s tailor shop (a child’s wonderland) occupied the ground floor.
When my parents bought their starter (and only) house, on the suburban side of town, Mom proved to have green thumbs, and annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees soon colonized our small lot. My father, Hal, a Bronx boy, grew beefsteaks and cherry tomatoes.
Mom’s sister, Edie, and her family, bought a similar house in the development (created for the Greatest Generation, their wives and their baby Baby Boomers), a five-minute ride from us (no one considered walking). She was less of a horticulturist. With few options for flowers in that first fall, the sisters both bought mums. On the phone with Edie, Mom advised deadheading (which sounds like following Jerry Garcia & Co.), which she called pinching, to encourage blooming until a hard frost.
Maybe, because as an aunt, Edie had so often taken a chubby bit of my (or Babette’s) cheeks lovingly between her thumb and index finger, she applied the same maneuver to the mums, leaving the expired flowers slightly dented, but in place. When Mom discovered the misunderstanding, a family joke (with endless teasing) took root.
This spring in Stone Ridge we planted lots of orange for the hummingbirds (who prefer the sugar water in the flying saucer-shaped feeder)–an extravagant double hanging begonia, a Cuphea “Vermillionaire” and marigolds. The latter require deadheading (and their pots, a bit of weeding to remove the perkiest of all volunteers, purple basil seedlings). I love the marigolds’ very specific fragrance, a smell of summer, movingly redolent (like tomato leaves) of my childhood backyard.