“A Garden for the Heart,” column for July 15, 2014

My grandmother was a master gardener. She grew dahlias and chrysanthemums, sweet peas and hydrangeas, tomatoes and corn, green beans and squash, sustenance for body and soul.

She could make anything bloom. Even me.

For most of her life, she lived on a farm in the mountains of North Carolina, where she reared four children, buried a husband and took solace in the changing of seasons, the constancy of Nature and the never-ending mysteries of life.

After my parents divorced, my dad moved back to the farm and worked at a nearby mill. I visited on weekends or holidays, whenever my mother allowed.

While my dad devoured my grandmother’s vegetables, I inhaled her flowers. There are different kinds of hunger. I was a skinny kid, never ate much. But her flowers fed a thousand hungry places in my soul.

My farm chores were few, but vital. I’d help my dad with the milking by holding the cow’s tail so it didn’t swat him in the face; scatter feed for the chickens and collect the eggs; dry the dishes for my grandmother and stand on my toes to put them away.

When my chores were done, I was free to roam the mountain singing songs, keeping an eye out for snakes and gathering an armload of blooms _ both those she had planted and those that were, as she said, planted by the hand of God: wild azaleas and rhododendron, violets and pansies, Morning Glories that twined around fence posts in the pasture, Queen Anne’s Lace that grew in clumps by the road.

I also collected chiggers and ticks and other vermin that dug into my flesh and made me scratch like a flea-bitten hound. My grandmother would dab liniment on the bites and say, “Beauty has a price. I hope it was worth it.”

“Yes, ma’am,” I’d say, “it was.” Then I’d scratch some more.

I loved gathering flowers on my own. But what I loved best was gathering them with her.

We’d hike for miles. She’d point to plants and rocks and birds and clouds while I trotted along behind her like a sponge with skinny legs, trying to soak it all up.

At the end of the day, we’d sort the gatherings and choose our favorites to make bouquets: One for the living room, one for the kitchen and one each for our nightstands, hers and mine. My dad said his room was too small for flowers, but I’d fill a Coke bottle to place by his bed.

Even then, as a child, I knew what I needed most from my grandmother was not her flowers, but her time. She’s been gone for years, but still sometimes, when I reach down to pick a bloom or pull a weed, I see her hand, not mine.

I thought I’d grow up to be a gardener just like her. When my kids were small, I planted bulbs that got eaten by gophers. And pansies that got eaten by deer. And a whole lot of other stuff that just plain died. Finally, I gave up. I told myself, someday, when my children had children, I’d be a gardening grandma. Then the grandbabies started showing up, and I discovered I’d much rather chase after them than go digging in the dirt.

The truth is, I’m no gardener. I spend more time pulling bags through an airport than weeds from a garden. I love watching things grow and bloom. But I’m a picker, not a planter.

I differ from my grandmother in many ways, but this: I will always carry within me a heart she grafted from her own.

I don’t need to plant a garden. My flowers are in bloom. Randy is a Tiger Lily. Henry is Morning Glory. Wiley is a Sweet Pea. Charlotte is Queen Anne’s Lace.

I wish you could see them.

They delight and exhaust and complete me with a kind of beauty that is worth any price.

All I need to do is tend them with time, water them with love, and hope that someday, when they hold their first grandchild, they just might see my hand.


  1. Brenda Bryant says

    Catching up on your columns, this one really spoke to me.
    A dear friend lost her mama 2 years ago, and I remember her sharing that she had always hated her hands (“they aren’t pretty”). Until she realized that her hands look just like her mama’s…..and they are beautiful.

  2. Elwood Orr says

    While I majored in English in college, apparently the Lord gave you yours. Your writing style warms my heart and stimulates my thinking. I’m never happier than when I am digging in the dirt to give a heuchera a new home, or graft a newly ‘adopted’ variety of camellia that just had to go home with me…or divide a hosta that fell in love with me…..or read one of your columns. One criticism: they are always too short! Thanks for the inspiration you share with so many needy souls. Like that prayer for Abu ben Adam—“may your tribe increase!”

  3. Davey & Dan says

    Hi Sharon! We have been so blessed with Grandmothers who gave us unconditional love and Grandchildren to love and spoil. They are the bonus in life. Hope you are well. Maybe you could squeeze in an hour for lunch sometime?

  4. Yolande D Brooks says

    I read your articles in the Independent Mail from Anderson SC. You are the only reason to look forward to Monday’s. The stories about your Grandmother and your grand-kids always make me cry- and laugh- and cry again. What a gift you have for making your readers stop and think and remember. Thank you! Yo Brooks

  5. Diane Fox says

    How funny, tonight I drove by the house where my grandma lived and really missed her. It has been ten years since she died but today the pain was as intense as if it was yesterday. She too was a master with the dirt and making things grow. Now, I collect precious bouquets of clover, leaves, dandelions with my four precious grandchildren and place them in the mason jar vases as it they were exotic flowers and they beam at their creations. It is odd to think I am the generation of my dear grandmother, sharing the love and life lessons with my grands as she did with me. Thank you Sharon for your articles of life, love, and friendship. You can make me laugh and cry within minutes in the same article. Diane

  6. Mary Harrington says

    Saron I am an avid fan of yours. I try to never miss a column. Your prose speaks my heart and I just wanted you to know that you have a fan that is your sister at heart. Today’s column on grandchildren struck a chord for I also have six that I think make a beautiful wild flower garden. After I send this I will be leaving for a funeral for a friend who died very quickly of cancer. We had lunch two months ago today I am going to her funeral. I am telling you for your columns on loss are always on the mark . Life is our garden we need to tend to it. Thanks for your time.

    • Sharon Randall says

      Mary, thank you for you kind words. I’m sorry you lost your friend. Please know I wish you grace and peace.

  7. You have done it again, Sharon. You made me cry. Such a beautiful article. Makes me really miss my grandparents today. This article brought back some great memories of my own lovely grandparents. Thank you! I always enjoy reading your columns. They remind me of what is really important in life! God bless! 🙂

  8. With wet eyes putting a short note here as I read the whole content in three minutes in two shifts total 6 only but I will keep it whole day and whole week in my memory ,it is even short to hold on as I am busy again doing nothing but recollecting tiny pieces of memories just like some of your .A gifted writer can put all in such beautiful stanzas , but it is my duty to write a few words to Sharon who did her job better than millions of writers in this world . Thanks and regards ,love and blessings to you and all family to blossom so many more hearts with such good memories !! Shashi

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