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Garden memorial

09/09/02 12:00AM By Henry Homeyer
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(Host) It's been a year now since the tragedy of September 11, and commentator Henry Homeyer has some thoughts about what we can do to remember those who died that day.

(Homeyer) A few years ago, I went to Washington and talked to the gardener at the White House.

He pointed out two magnificent southern magnolias growing on the south side of the president's home, and explained that President Andrew Jackson brought them up from Tennessee on horseback when they were just seedlings. He planted them in 1830 in memory of his late wife, who died at a young age, and each spring for over 160 years they have graced the White House with beautiful blossoms.

Closer to home, the people of Weathersfield, Vermont planted sugar maples on their green to honor those who served in the Civil War. In that small town nearly 150 men were lost. Those trees still stand proudly after all these years, a tribute to the soldiers and a reminder of the horrors of war.

Last fall tens of thousands of daffodils were planted in New York City. Planting bulbs gave people something healing they could do. They dug holes and planted bulbs because they trusted nature to protect and nurture the bulbs, and because they knew the beauty of the daffodils in the spring would help other New Yorkers to feel better.

And then just recently, driving from White River to Middlebury, I noticed that there were lilacs in almost every graveyard I passed. So it occurred to me that we might plant lilacs to honor the victims of September 11: They're traditional, they'll grow anywhere, and they are survivors. They withstand road salt, poor soil and pollution, and they'd be a good choice for anyone who may not have much experience planting trees, as they're very forgiving.

In some respects, trees are like humans. When young, both grow vigorously. At maturity they share what they can with the world. For trees, that is their flowers, a little shade, their beauty, perhaps some fruit. And in old age they may creak and groan a bit in the wind, but their wrinkles show character.

A few years ago I planted a purple smoke bush in honor of my friend and mentor, Fritz Hier, on the day he was buried. When I pass by, sometimes I talk to it, as if Fritz were there. "Hello Fritz," I might say. "It's been pretty darn dry. Can I get you a drink?" And when I lug over a bucket of water and give it a drink, I feel a connection to Fritz that's hard to describe, but very strong.

You know, we gardeners tend to be optimists. Each year we plant things, believing they'll grow. The events of September 11 have changed the way many of us see the world, but I hope that soon our ability to look to the future with optimism, and with forgiveness, will grow strong again too. And if you plant a lilac, spring will be just that much sweeter.

This is the gardening guy, Henry Homeyer, in Cornish Flat, New Hampshire.

Henry Homeyer is a gardener and writer. His new book is Notes from the Garden: Reflections and Observations of an Organic Gardener.
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