I remember my first visit to an actual nursery. I was in seventh grade, and it was Dyess Nursery on Texas Avenue in Bryan. Mom drove me there, and she patiently waited in the car while I carefully made my way from plant to plant through that entire nursery, taking it all in and dreaming of what I might do when I grew up. A few months later, while she was finishing up degree work in library science at North Texas (A&M in my hometown was still all-male), Mom took me to Lambert's near Love Field. My strongest memory is of not wanting to leave.
So, although my first garden was alongside my dad, my mother played a critical part in nurturing my interest in plants. Moms are just that way.
Now it's your turn to repay the favors and remember your mother on Mother's Day. Let's think about some things that you can do to make her day more special than just a delivery of cut roses. Whether you're a grateful son or daughter, or whether you're acting as gift counselor to a child or grandchild, here are some ideas that might make Mother's Day 2011 especially memorable.
Plant a tree together
This is especially good for a young child to give a mother or grandmother. With guidance from the elder, the youngster can dig the hole, plant the tree, then water thoroughly. (Kids are specialists in "watering thoroughly," usually including themselves.) Buy a tree that will live for many decades, which means that you should avoid fast-growing trees. Choose oaks, pecans, cedar elms, magnolias, Chinese pistachios or tree-form crape myrtles. There's something special about being able to take future generations back to see trees that you planted as a youth. I know, because I've done it.
Texas-based gardening books
There was a time when garden books all came from the East or West Coasts. In the past 30 years, however, many fine volumes have been written for Texas gardeners, and a lovely new one has just hit the shelves. From TAMU Press, it's Heirloom Gardening in the South by Dr. William C. Welch of Texas A&M and Greg Grant from Stephen F. Austin State University. These guys are two of my closest allies in horticulture, and they've written together before. This is a lovely and well-illustrated book on the plants and practices of Southern gardening through the decades.
Tour a local arboretum or botanic garden
We're blessed with several nice options in the area. Right here at home, we have the many facets of the Fort Worth Botanic Garden. Whether it's a stroll through the rose gardens, a visit to the serene Japanese Garden, a walk through the Conservatory or a picnic on the lawn, there's always something to see just off Interstate 30 on University Boulevard.
Go a little farther west, and take your mom to Chandor Gardens in Weatherford. This jewel of North Texas is one of the most charming gardens you'll ever visit. Douglas Chandor was a world-renowned portrait artist in the 1930s and 1940s, and he spent his off times building a garden for the ages. I'd lived in the Metroplex for 25 years before I discovered it, and my first visit sent me home to develop 14 rolls of Kodachrome. (Now I just take an extra memory card.) Check the gardens' official website for hours and information.
Still farther west, you'll find Clark Gardens in Mineral Wells. That part of Texas is pretty anyway, and adding in a 42-year-old garden just makes it better. There's lots to see at Clark, and special events are planned for Mother's Day. Check the website for details.
If you want to venture east, drop in on the Dallas Arboretum, which overlooks White Rock Lake. Now 30 years old, the arboretum has grown to be one of America's best-known public gardens. Color beds are changed out frequently, and many small gardens will appear as you make your way through the 66 acres.
Finally, some easy options if you're short on time or money (or both):
Gift certificate (designed by you!) pledging your time helping in her garden. She gets to choose. You promise to do.
A dependable windowsill plant. If your mom works in an office, spends time looking out the kitchen window or lives in an assisted-living facility, choose a failsafe plant for her window. Your nurseryman or florist can recommend the best. Or, promise to bring a new flowering plant monthly.
A lovely large patio pot spilling with summer color, or lasting garden art. She'll remember you each time she sees the flowers or hears those musically tuned wind chimes. Bird feeders, fountains and statues are other nice choices.
A gift card and escorted visit to one of our fine local nurseries. This is what I gave my mom for her last several Mother's Days. I never realized it, but she and I came full circle, back to those days when she took me to my first nurseries.
Neil Sperry publishes Gardens magazine and hosts Texas Gardening noon-1 p.m. Saturdays and 9 a.m.-noon Sundays on WBAP AM/FM. Reach him during those hours at 800-288-9227 or 214-787-1820.