A Remembrance of an Old Friend and His Lovely Garden

In a small courtyard with a white, wrought-iron settee, an intimate group of family and friends gathered to say goodbye. Through thoughtful prayers, tears, and a eulogy delivered with wit and love, I realized this was the perfect way to honor a life well-lived.

Against the church wall was a simple border of tea roses, bachelor buttons and coneflowers. A garden meant to quietly soothe and comfort, to provide beauty, and not be demanding of the caretaker’s time.

While wiping away the tears, we moved from the courtyard to a private garden where we shared stories and a meal. Throughout the afternoon, I was struck by the many memories I had of this garden. It is where I have celebrated weddings, birthdays and long summer evenings; now it is where I remember a friend.

The garden is lovely and filled with pockets of boxwoods, oakleaf hydrangeas, forsythia, Russian sage, wisteria and ferns. Tucked in the corner is a handcrafted birdhouse, and ceramic planters scatter the edges. Tomato plants are sharing a sunny spot near the gate. Each visit here, and there have been many, surprise me with the beauty of the grounds.

My eye keeps going to a beautiful red hibiscus. As I walk through the garden, I keep coming back to this stunning bloom. In a different time, we would have discussed the plant, its history and the care it required..

Always one to weave a little education into a story, I’m sure my friend is happy that I am home now and learning about this beautiful flower. The hibiscus is native to tropical or temperate regions. You may be familiar with the tropical hibiscus tree which generally grows in a container on patios and balconies and needs to be moved inside once the temperatures dip and there is a chance of frost.

There is also the hardy hibiscus, a perennial shrub that can be planted in gardens, and with a little luck and care will come back year after year. This plant loves a sunny spot; it will grow in part shade, but probably not bloom to its potential without full sun.

The blooms are big, the size of saucers, ranging anywhere from 6 to 12 inches across.

Although I am quite taken with the red, blooms can be several colors including yellow, pink, white or coral. The leaves are heart-shaped and it’s their job to frame the flower and give contrast to the bloom color. I’m not the only one drawn to this flower. Expect to find birds, bees and butterflies flitting about.

It’s a good idea to fertilize the hibiscus during the blooming season. Pruning is not necessary, only to control the size, which for the perennial hardy hibiscus can be 6 feet tall. It does like moist, but not wet, soil. Mulching will help to prevent the soil from drying out between watering.

The hibiscus is not just another pretty face. Part of the plant can be used for tea, paper, even roping materials. In certain cultures, it is believed to have medicinal qualities. I admit to loving hibiscus tea but using a teabag, not the raw plant.

As the seasons change, so will this lovely garden. I look forward to making more memories there, spending more nights chasing pups in the dark and seeing it evolve under the care of his wife, who I secretly believe to be the mastermind of the garden design. Now, I raise my garden trowel and a glass of fine wine to Dr. Tom Isaac, veterinarian, historian, farmer, bluegrass music fan, and a man who loved his family and friends. Cheers to making memories and sharing your garden with those you love.