Robin sent me pictures of McCrillis Garden in Bethesda, Maryland, my hometown, sparking this post.
One time back when my children were young, my folks were visiting and we took everybody to see the Conservatory of Flowers at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. It was fascinating having Dad there: various plants would spark memories for him that I knew nothing about and get him talking.
His family had moved a few times while he was growing up, and each time, his father had declared the new place home by planting salpiglossis by the mailbox,Â Dad said, pointing out what to me had to that point simply been a random flower.
His father had died when I was maybe three, and any point of reference between Grandfather and me was to be treasured forever.Â Salpiglossis it is.
We walked the paths with the kids often running ahead, we admired the lake, we saw the ducks–sorry, no bread here–and we were about to head out of the park, done for the day, when we saw a small sign in front of a narrow break in a long high hedge running by the side of the road.Â Hey! We can’t miss out on that!Â And so we found ourselves walking into the hidden-away deep shade and quiet peace of the McClaren Rhododendron Dell.Â We had it almost completely to ourselves.Â It was late in the season for seeing rhododendrons, which were a family favorite–and yet a few were still putting on a good display.Â And there were so many other things in full bloom.
Dad and I, talking, found ourselves a little apart from the rest of the family; this was in the days back when the Dell looked like this.Â We were exclaiming over how gorgeous it all was–look at that yellow clivia, and that orange one–they’re related to amaryllises!Â And that rhodo, and… Dad’s father had taught horticulture at the University of Nevada and was agriculture secretary of that state. (There’s agriculture in Nevada, wonders the East Coast-raised granddaughter? Nevermind.)
There was a gardener there who was trying not to pay too obvious nor too much attention but finally just couldn’t help himself.Â He stopped the two of us and told us apologetically, “I don’t usually accost people in the park,” and went on to say how thrilled he was that we appreciated the place.Â He held his arms out towards the whole expanse of Monterey Cypress and flourishing undergrowth and declared, “I have the best job on the planet!”
We got to ask him questions; he got to share more of what he does, and I came away eager to come back when the rest of the rhododendrons were on full display.
After we got out of his earshot, Dad turned to me and said, with the proud smile of a father, “We just met a male Alison.”Â Someone who loves what he does and loves being able to share it. To which I would say, I’d just found a counterpart to my Dad.Â Enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and loves people.
Since that day, a huge storm destroyed much of the Conservatory of Flowers and took out a thousand trees. The shade was gone.Â The paths became inaccessible and many of the Dell plants were damaged by too much sunlight and then by a virus.
Over the years, a little progress was made, but not much.Â This spring, at last, fourteen years later, San Francisco awarded the contract for a major renovation.Â There is a Facebook meet-up group of volunteers to help, too, and things are moving forward.
I can’t wait to go visit the outcome.
The new redwoods replacing the cypresses will take awhile to catch up.Â My future grandchildren will love the place.Â I’ll tell them to go hunt for the salpiglossis.
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