My Mother’s Day gardening project
May 9th, 2010
Ever since I can remember, I was in love with a 3-piece set of wicker furniture that stood inside the enclosed porch of my grandmother Helen Winslow Ford’s home in Hammond, Indiana.
After I wrote the above paragraph, I started asking myself “what was it about the wicker porch furniture that tugged at my heart?” Vintage wicker somehow symbolizes all the feelings of comfort, care and love that I always felt at Grandma’s house. Those emotions continued with my own mother and the home she created and kept for her family. And now, maybe I can emulate those traits here in my grownup life, for the husband and sons I care for.
That timeworn wicker – a love seat, arm chair and rocking chair – made its way from Grandma’s home on Florence Street to my mother Anita Ford Prinzing. I first remember seeing the pieces in our Portland, Ore., house (perhaps Mom inherited the furniture after Grandma passed away – I’ll have to ask her).
Mom updated the 1940s seafoam green wicker with a coat of 1970s chocolate brown paint. She replaced the aging seat covers with cushions of a quilted rust-orange-sunflower yellow patchwork print.
Soon after Bruce and I married in 1984, Mom gave me the rocking chair. I took off the curved “rocker” sections and converted the piece into an armchair. I painted the woven wicker a soft blue-gray. The new cushion was covered in a tiny blue-and-raspberry polished cotton print. I also gathered and piped a cover to hide one of the chewed up arms.
The shredded weft and warp of the wicker was the fault of mom and her brother’s childhood dog. Consequentially, the chair was always considered a bit junky because you couldn’t sit in it without your sweater sleeve snagging on the bits of wire sticking in every direction.
Later, my parents shipped me the wicker love seat. I am not sure how I got so lucky because I know my brother Scott and his wife Kris used it for a while. But somehow my teenage “request” to inherit the piece lodged in my mom’s memory and she sent me the brownish wicker love seat in 1997, after she had owned it for more than two decades.
That was the year we lived in a 2-bedroom apartment with a newborn (Alex) and a 5-yr-old (Benjamin) in Seattle’s Madison Park while building our dream house in nearby Seward Park. I remember the enormous box arriving from UPS or some other shipping service. I had to open it in the courtyard outside, because there simply was no space in our apartment to do so.
Recently, after downsizing, my parents arrived to see us in Southern California while en route to their place in Mesa. The “good” wicker armchair (the one the dog didn’t eat!) was wedged into the back seat of their car. Personally delivered by my folks, the chair has joined its love seat companion on our back patio. Both pieces now need a face lift but they are in good shape considering they are at least 70 years old. I’m thinking of painting them glossy black and adding lime green cushions with black piping. Won’t that look modern?!
Mom told me, “I’m going to give you the nice chair but only if you promise to get rid of the one that’s unraveling.”
I said, “Okay, I’ll stop using it to entertain garden guests. But is it okay if I find a spot for it as a piece of art in the garden?”
She couldn’t say no!
Last fall, I removed the disintegrating cushion and seat, and placed the bottomless chair out in the garden. Yup, it’s in the right place. For months, I’ve wanted to paint it lime green and “plant” the seat and torn-up arm section with sedums and other succulents.
I have admired planted chairs before. Last summer I saw a peacock blue chair in a garden display at the Ventura Co. Fair. Its seat and back were planted with succulents. Luscious! [see my photo – above]
So today, my Mother’s Day gift to myself was to dig out the electric paint sprayer, clean off the chair’s wicker framework, and head to the hardware store for paint. I came home with an outdoor-ready semigloss in a color I can only think to call guacamole green.
The painting is finished. Doesn’t it look great? Perhaps it needs a second coat after this one dries. I’ll do that tomorrow, before the demands and deadlines of the coming week take over my calendar.
Next: I want to fill the empty seat area with a panel of 1/4-inch mesh sheeting. I have a piece lying around from a planting project a few summers ago. I used it to anchor some succulents into a path and stop some critters (rabbits? possums?) from digging up the plants each night.
The mesh will create a supporting base for moss, which will be covered with a shallow layer of potting soil-cactus mix as my planting medium. Into that, I’ll plant a new “cushion” of all sorts of sedums. Voila! My long-awaited planted chair.
I’ll post photos as I go along. I’m also thinking of using the mesh to contain soil behind the gaps created by Mom’s hungry dog so I can plant a few more succulents there.
I don’t remember much about her family pet other than that the dog’s name was Sue-Sue. According to Mom, my grandfather used to open the front door and call out to the dog: “Oh, Susanna!”
That’s a silly story, but I remember it made me laugh as a girl.