Gardens and Memory



Photo of Reservation 232 taken in 1927 (photo courtesy of Historical Society of Washington)

Gardening for me is mostly a solitary activity.  But the last few months, I’ve been sharing my watering, weeding, and transplanting with my ten-month old. 
It gives my wife a few moments of peace, and it is a pleasant distraction for Jude, who would otherwise be tugging on an electric cord or grubbing dust balls from underneath the refrigerator.  Jude is fascinated with the ornery mockingbirds (“dta” while pointing), the cloud of bees over our perennials, and the raisiny fruit on our Serviceberry tree.  He often notices something that I do not.  Yesterday, he leaned over to grab the seed clusters of our Kousa Dogwood.  They had budded into these gorgeous emerald orbs.  “Huh,” I thought.  “That’s cool.”
Image by Fred Jeranes
To see the garden with my son changes the way I experience it.  The filter through which I see the garden is dislocated, and I not only see the garden in a new way, but see my son as well.  I get these glimpses into his precious mind, experiencing the world all fresh and new.
Moments like these make me think about other gardeners.  If I feel most like myself—most grounded—while I wander through my garden, then I want to know other gardeners as they are in their gardens.  How do they see their gardens differently than I do?  What do they care for and love? 
Kim Breneger
Several months ago, I was contacted by a woman who is working with a group to create a memorial garden for Kim Brenegar.  Kim was a garden designer who lived and practiced in the Capitol Hill neighborhood in Washington, D.C.  Kim died at the age of 49 in a tragic car accident.  Although I never knew Kim personally, her presence was everywhere in the neighborhood.  Friends of mine were her clients, and they raved about her.  Kim was passionate and colorful gardener and designer.  I only knew people who knew Kim, but her enthusiasm was infectious.  Her loss was not just for those who loved her, but the entire neighborhood and gardening community in Washington, D.C. 
The Friends of Kim Brenegar have proposed a most fitting memorial.  Together with the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation, the Friends group will redesign, restore, and maintain a garden called Kim’s garden on the site of a National Park Service Reservation at the intersection of 8th Street SE and Independence Avenue that Kim volunteered her time to maintain. 

This garden will be an ideal tribute to Kim.  What I love most about this project is not just the physical space—the garden—dedicated as a memorial, but that volunteers and friends will remember Kim through the act of gardening.  It’s not so much the place that is connected to her memory, but the activity of caring for the garden as Kim did.
We are what we love.  To connect with another, we must love what they loved, care for what they cared for, and cultivate what they cultivated.  In doing so, we get a glimpse of the heart.
To read more about Kim’s Garden, click here.
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