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  • Jennifer Gillen

Early Inspiration

Growing up, we didn’t have a lot of money. We lived in a little house that my father continued to improve. He built us decks, porches and flower beds. A few times, he even turned the porches into insulated rooms with electricity. The flower beds were long, timbered and filled with manure and soft dirt. We planted roses in the beds. A lush, blue hydrangea bush grew on the east side of the house. Wild lantana grew on the west side. All around the boundaries of the backyard, blackberries sprang up in the summer.


There was always work going on at home. And there were often relatives over to help. Sometimes, a dump truck would arrive with a load of oyster shells for the driveway. Everyone got shovels and went to work helping to fill in holes and smooth the drive. Our driveway was pretty long. To accommodate visitors, it was shaped like a “Y”. In the middle of the fork in the driveway, stood a mature willow. My parents planted yellow day lilies around its base.

I still love the graceful fall of willow branches.

One of the stars of the yard was a rose planted near the street to hide the water meter. It was a climbing rose that everyone called a “Seven Sisters” rose. It was the pride of my family and we always looked to see if it was in bloom when we drove in or out of the driveway. It might have come from an heirloom cutting, but I can't remember that. I found the name, “Seven Sisters” enchanting and exotic. Who has seven sisters? I only had two and that was plenty.


My favorite plant in our yard was a star jasmine vine that covered our front porch. I loved its scent and tiny white flowers. In between our house and the screened-in porch was a pathway to the water hose. It was lined with banana trees. These were always filled with all sorts of frogs and bugs, especially mosquitoes. It was a creepy pathway, only good for hide and seek. But I loved tearing off a big banana leaf and peeling it along each vein.


It’s interesting to me to think about these early influences. It is often said that place is a significant influence in art. We lived in that house until I was ten. I grew up surrounded by a thick lawn of St. Augustine grass and beautiful blooming flowers. My family valued the flowers. It was special to take care of a part of nature that gives back beauty so generously. Sadly, I did not inherit a green thumb. All of my flowers bloom best on paper.


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