Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Gardening: Barb's Hostas

I first heard Barb's name shortly after we moved here. I was an Avon Lady back then, so naturally I asked a new friend and neighbor if she wanted to see a catalogue. She told me that her friend, Barb from across the street, sold Avon. I knew the protocol was to leave other reps clientele alone, so I did not mention it again. One doesn't always think about the first time she hears a person's name unless that person really changes her - and Barb did just that.

The next spring Barb's husband was doing some cleanup around the yard while Mr. Farmer was visiting across the street. He was thinning and removing some overwhelming hostas, and he asked if we wanted them. Mr. Farmer brought home a huge, root-bound clump of them and set them in the side yard. When fall came and we had not yet found a home for the monstrosity, he dumped it unceremoniously into one of my annual beds. It stayed there for a few years.

In the winter of 2008, I was assigned as the emergency chairperson of a community activities committee. I have always been more of a natural workhorse than a leader (though I am working on those skills), and I really did not want the position. Barb, however, did. She came in and took over quickly. She poured her heart and soul into that committee and the two of us became inseparable. The group was in trouble, and we felt like it was us against the world, but she kept me motivated day after day, week after week, as we made the best of a bad situation and smiled through it all. We worked together, we suffered together, and we even worked out together.

But Barb was fighting a personal battle as well. In addition to some issues resulting from her recent hysterectomy, she had migraines that no doctor seemed to be able to cure or even help. She was missing a lot of work. She gave up her Avon business to focus on her health and her community duties. She even spent some time in the hospital, desperate for answers to why the migraines would not improve. One night in November 2009 she confused her many medicines prescribed by several different doctors and took too many. She did not wake up the following morning.


I am not the kind of person to get sentimental over a plant, especially a hosta. After all, these things grew up by the roadside where I grew up. They needed no tending or care. They almost seemed to appear here and there out of nowhere, and I've never been particularly fond of them. When they removed the big, dead tree from my best friend's yard when I was a girl, I mourned the tree and its shade (briefly), but not the beautiful, full ring of hostas that surrounded it like a halo.

Barb's hostas are different. Barb was the first friend I ever lost, and she was only 45. We became close so quickly, and she was gone so suddenly. The hosta that was carelessly tossed into my annual bed and cursed year after year that I didn't move it became my personal shrine for her. It's a living shrine, and it means more to me than any of my other plants.

So, late last summer, I rebuilt the wall running down my driveway. I dug up the hosta and carefully washed the tangled roots. I separated it into 5 manageable sized plants, and replanted them behind that wall. I moved load after load of dirt to cover them, but ran out of steam before they were fully covered. So I buried them in the last of our mulch and prayed they lasted the winter. They became covered with snow and the chips and sawdust from the winter's fire wood cutting. I removed all the wood two weeks ago, but I still wasn't sure if they survived.

I found Barb's hostas this week. They were popping up green shoots just above the ground, and I was elated. I rebuilt the rock wall (again). I started a back wall to make a bed for them, as Mr. Farmer suggested. And, once again, I moved load after load of dirt to fill in and make a proper bed. I even added a stone path (also Mr. Farmer's idea) so that the bed won't be desecrated by children and dogs seeking access to the side yard.

There is much left to do. The rear wall is only half finished, as is the fill. The entire bed needs mulch. I will no doubt need to tend it all summer, and in future years I will surely need to thin them again. This garden, however, is not a matter of pride or pleasure. It is a labor of love.

The Hosta Garden So Far


  1. What a beautiful and sad story. It's terrible to lose someone; especially when the person is so young. I'm glad you have such a beautiful reminder of your friend.

    On a side note: you're not alone. I don't know of anyone who actually LIKES hostas. My mom despises them so much she calls them "hostiles." I'm glad yours remind you of your dear friend, though. Your garden is such a loving tribute to her. Thanks for sharing. *hugs*

    1. It's nice to know that other people dislike hostas like I do. I have to admit, however, that the hosta beds look GREAT this year. They are coming up like perfect little potted plants- nicely spaced and very green. They are a good edging for my driveway and a fine reminder of a dear, if short-time, friend.