Debra Prinzing

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Remembering our friend Mary

May 24th, 2008

Mary Martin with Wallace, her cockapoo. Photographed by William Wright on July 5, 2007

Mary Martin, with Wallace, her cockapoo; photographed on July 5, 2007 by William Wright

Mary called me on May 15th from Atlanta to tell me of her sudden diagnosis of brain cancer. Four days later, she died, after doctors tried to relieve the bleeding and remove her tumor.  How can one so vibrant and full of creative energy disappear from our lives so quickly?

Featured in “Personal Space,” one of the first chapters in Stylish Sheds, Mary Martin was a consummate Southern lady. She embraced this book with incredible passion and support, investing her own time, money, and energy to promote it to clients of her fine gift business, Mary’s Garden Champagne Savers.

I met Mary through Atlanta landscape designer David Ellis, of Landshapes Garden Design. I fondly remember when Wendy Bassett, my Atlanta “shed angel” (aka fairy godmother), drove me to meet Mary and see her little cabin on a chilly day in January 2007. We came down the driveway, turned the corner into her gorgeous backyard (even in winter, it was in perfect, tip-top shape!), and were immediately drawn down the curving stepping-stone path toward a charming split-log style haven.

A curved path made with stepping stones large enough for two to walk side-by-side travels across the lawn from Mary\'s house to her backyard retreat

A curved path made with stepping stones large enough for two to walk side-by-side travels across the lawn from Mary’s house to her personal backyard retreat

While she wasn’t sure of its provenance, Mary guessed that the rustic, 1930s-era shed might have been purchased by earlier owners from a mail-order catalog, perhaps as a potting shed. She updated the 240-square-foot hut, painted the board-and-batten walls of its two interior rooms in pistachio green, added a fresh coat of  bay-green paint to the two cottage doors and “moved in.”

Beyond the walls of her rather grand Southern Colonial-style home, Mary could be found, secreted away in her backyard studio, which served as a potting shed, storage for beekeeping and honey making, a painter’s easel and a writing room.

“When I first saw it, I thought, What a wonderful place for gardening, but it has also become a nice little project building,” she told us.

Her love of this little building, which Mary later expanded by adding a 16-by-17 foot screened room, was rooted in memories of a childhood playhouse. She played outside and cooked on a real stove inside a little pink playhouse her father, John Martin, built for Mary and her younger sister, Ann. On her desk inside the cabin, Mary kept a framed photograph of the tiny, sweet structure.

“I do think my childhood memories of that pink playhouse tie into my enjoyment of this very private, peaceful ‘retreat’ where I feel hundreds of miles away from the city when I’m inside it,” she said.

I spoke today with Janell Knox, a friend of Mary’s since college, and she told me that Mary faced the news of her illness with incredible courage. “She was out in the cottage on Sunday,” Janell says. Later that day, the pain in her head was so severe that doctors had her taken to Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta. Efforts to relieve the bleeding failed. In her last moments, Mary was surrounded by friends and loved ones, including her parents, John and Elizabeth Martin. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s obituary of Mary aptly described her as having “enthusiasm for life.”

Selfishly, I am so pleased that in her last year, Mary befriended Bill Wright and me. She had an intensity about everything she did in life, including the way she devoted herself to friends. We will miss her spirit, although having a glimpse of her in the pages of our book is a quiet comfort.

I end with a quote that Mary loved. It is from her late grandfather, Rudolf Anderson, who was a landscape designer and widely known for his camellia and azalea breeding throughout the Southeast. It sums up her philosophy, as well, evident in the way Mary drew her beloved plants and garden into her life.

“I’ve always felt that anybody looking at beauty in nature cannot help but have more noble thoughts.” (Rudolf Anderson, 1967)

3 Responses to “Remembering our friend Mary”

  1. Lydia Plunk Says:

    There is a line in a song of Alan Jackson’s “Small Town Southern Man”
    that seem appropriate to your friend

    “He said his greatest contribution
    Is the ones you leave behind”

    Your friend left a legacy of love, enthusiasm and beauty. In your book you helped spread her aesthetic philosophy to people like me, who otherwise would probably never been touched by her gentle kindness.

  2. Lori Says:

    Such a beautiful and talented woman……..I’m so sorry to read about her passing.

  3. David Says:

    I’ve been taking in your book a chapter a day, in no particular order. Just yesterday I read your telling of her shed’s story, along with Bill’s wonderful photos.
    A sad loss, and yet how wonderful that this one little part of her life’s story will touch so many.

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