Using Holiday Amaryllis(s) as a Bridge to Sunshine

Here is an idea. If you get a gift of an Amaryllis for Christmas, or buy some for yourself but don’t get them planted before the holiday is over…no worries, one year I bought several of them to give to my staff as gifts, however, I left the company before I was able to give them out. Not wanting to waste them (I have always had them dry out by summer if I did not use them),I gave some to friends and put the rest of them away, thinking maybe I could do something with them later on, but knowing I would probably forget about them and find them once again somewhere in mid-summer dehydrated and beyond salvaging. Plus they reminded me of how much I missed my staff and it made me a bit sad. Winter passed and we were heading into the long and more dreary days of early spring typical to the Northwest, when while out in the garage I stumbled upon the stack of boxes of abandoned Amaryllis bulbs and decided to do something with them. So I planted them all around the house. And to my surprise, they bloomed. My home was now full of large bright red and pink glorious long stemmed and handsome blooms. So cheerful and lovely. From then on, I buy the bulbs (on sale) and put them out during the dreary months to add color and hope for the sun-filled months to come.


This was meant to be my original Blog Post, as it explains a few things, but the other one seemed more appropriate at the time.


In 2007 my Father who lived in a more northern part of the state from where I lived, was officially diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. He had been developing symptoms slowly over the 5 years prior but the ability to deny, ignore or wish away the symptoms were gone. He was 79 years old. One year later, he became ill with a bladder infection. The infection has caused him to develop a “Delirium”- a severe worsening of his confusion, which after efforts were made to treat the infection outside of the hospital setting, but he did not improve, he became suspicious and difficult to redirect.

Along with the Delirium came symptoms that made it abundantly clear that he suffered from Post- Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) the result of being a Veteran of three long and brutal wars. We had all suspected it, but my father did a good job of hiding it through his natural quiet nature and a couple of good “nips” of whiskey at night.  He rarely spoke of his years serving in combat, and on the rare occasion when he did make a reference to his war experiences, you could tell some of the memories were very painful for him and haunted him throughout the rest of his life.

Not to say my father was a sad, morose or brooding type of man, quite the contrary he was funny, a much- loved sort of fellow with a dry wit and warm heart.  Even in the middle stages of his Dementia, he could still manage a joke or humorous observation.

The Delirium I mentioned earlier, developed shortly after he was admitted to the hospital in the community where he and my mother lived.  Once the Delirium developed his decline was rapid. He died just a little over two weeks after his admission.  It was hard to believe that just prior to his becoming physically sick and the hospitalization he had been operating a riding mower, looking out the window to see if he could spot deer and visiting with family. He was troubled by the Alzheimer’s back then but was functioning.

I attribute the rapid decline that led to his death in part; to the nature of the Alzheimer’s, (he was also diagnosed with Lewy Body Dementia and Vascular Dementia) his age, and his comorbid medical conditions (he developed pneumonia soon after being admitted to the hospital), but also to the experience he had in the hospital.  The hospital experience was very traumatic. There were no specialized services for his specific care needs. And even with my best efforts and those of my sister, he endured a series of harsh treatments, void of any consistent quality or compassionate care.

The hospital staff were poorly equipped to handle his confusion and behaviors, he thought he was fighting the war again, he thought the enemy was coming for him, so the hospital responded to this by placing hard leather restraints on him and tying all of four of his extremities to the bed frame, he restrained like this or in some other manner for well over 70% of his time there. (I know, I reviewed his hospital record he was there about 10 days) When I traveled up north to the hospital to see him, I walked in to find him tied up, naked, with a nurse aide tucking his bottom sheet into the bottom of the mattress along with his catheter, this had to have very painful and he was quietly protesting by groaning and flinching, but the nurse aide did not seem to be aware of this.

In his confused state, he thought he was in “the brig on a navy ship.”  He was never allowed to be placed in an actual patient room, where it would have been quiet, but was left in a curtained-off triage area for several days. The environment was dimly lit and noisy, along with the general noises of people talking and moving about, the staff had placed a small television directly in front of him. It was on a children’s cartoon network.  I father never watched cartoons, he liked Westerns and “Walker Texas Ranger.”

After much protesting, he was eventually transferred for a brief time to a Psychiatric Hospital and then to a Nursing Home, where died the day after getting there.  His death was sad and tragic.

I was devastated, I was a nurse who had spent years caring for patients with Alzheimer’s myself, yet I could not prevent or convince those in charge of his care to treat him in the manner I had come to understand and expect as “best practice” a term for the agreed upon practice and quality of care in the nursing and healthcare world.  In addition to my grief, my father was a wonderful man and I loved my father dearly, as did all that knew him well.  I felt anger, frustration, and guilt.  I asked myself over- and- over again, how could this have happened, how could this happen on my watch, my God…Why, why?

My feelings consumed me, I tried to find justice and involve myself in advocacy, but I felt at a loss as to what to do with my complicated grief.  My sense of outrage seeped into my personal and professional life and made my daily functioning and relationships a strain for me and those around me, who I imagined were becoming weary of trying to support me in my state of unrest.

OK, OK, that part was sad, and I don’t blame you if you quit reading, because, yes, I was very angry …But now the good part…still a bit sad but I think worth reading…

The same year my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s my husband and I had bought a house.  The house had a very overgrown and unkempt yard.  The front yard garden consisted of three rhododendrons, three azaleas and two rose bushes.  The backyard was populated with weeds and dead trees along with a variety of animals, who would venture over to investigate, from the neighboring greenbelt.

My father was well enough during that first year in our new home to visit us.  He enjoyed sitting outside in an oversized Adirondack chair with my mother, watching us in the early phases of transforming the unkempt and barren backyard into a place of color and relaxation.

As he sat watching my husband and I pulling weeds and digging up the soil, my father shared with us some of his memories of being a small child growing up in the 1930s on a small Island called Eastport off the Maine Coast during the Great Depression. He described one of his memories that brought him joy.  It was about the times when would help his mother harvest the gladiolus she grew to sale to the markets and tourists.  They were very poor and the income from the flowers helped to put food on the table to feed my father, his three sisters, and his parents.

My father spoke with great fondness of the memory of walking down the worn grassy and sandy path to the edge of the cliff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.  At the end of the path, he and his mother would be met with the bold purple and yellow spikes of the garden patch of gladiolus; he remembered the vivid colors as they stood erect against the background of the blue sky populated with swirling nosey seagulls from above and white caps of the sea crashing against the rocks below.

As he told the story, I could imagine the salty air from the sea blowing the long bangs of light brown hair into his eyes and his mother’s well-worn and faded apron flapping in the breeze as she fervently maneuvered around it, trying to hold it down as the wind made the fabric billowed upwards. Long knife in hand, she went about cutting the flowers, while my father, a boy of about 5 or 6, worked to stack them neatly for her with the hope of pleasing her with his contribution to the process.

I loved the idea of my father having this type of memory, as from what I could gather, like many children growing up in depression era days, my father had a very difficult childhood.  Perhaps more difficult than most…

You see my father and his three sisters, one younger, two older, had to misfortune of being born to a couple who were not well suited for the role of parents. His father liked to keep company with another woman outside of his marriage and eventually abandoned his mother and their four young children and went off to be with one of the many women he kept company with. He started a second family; my father and his sisters went several years without seeing or hearing from their father.

My father’s mother, based upon what was shared with me by my mother (my father rarely had negative things to say about people, with his mother included, but he and one of his sisters did share some details with my mother) suffered from what today would be considered mental illness, and once her husband left; proceeded to perpetuate her already abusive treatment of the children left for her to raise alone.

Among the stories of her treatment of them which seemed so very cruel, was the story of how on occasion, when she became upset with one of the children she would grab them by the ankles or waist and hold them upside down over an open floorboard in the dilapidated house they lived in.  Under the floor, was a large pooling of water, collected from underground streams. With their head dangling over the opening in the floor, his mother would threaten to “throw them in” so they could be attacked and bitten by water snakes.  For my father, as a little boy hearing the screams of his sisters along with the idea of one of them being attacked, eaten or drowned was a very traumatic, a memory the four siblings would share forever.

My father had very few recollections of joy as a child; except for those sunny days on the cliffs with his mother collecting gladiolus.

Not long before my father died, he would mention how much he would like to come back to my home and see how my garden was coming along. Unfortunately, he became too ill for travel and he passed away before another visit could be arranged.

So, it is now September 2008, my father has been gone two months now, and I am consumed with anger and grief.  I often went out to my backyard to try to work out my frustrations and process. During one such episode (call it a therapy session with nature if you will) while sitting on a bench looking out over my partially planted backyard, I began to think about my father’s shared memories of those days with his mother and the gladiolus.

Being someone who likes to solve problems I decided I had to do something more productive with my time out in the yard then be angry and cry.  So, I decided to put in a garden to honor my father, why not? It had to be more rewarding then what I was doing.

That same day, I went to the garden store and bought gladiola bulbs, lots of them, all colors and planted them in an area of the yard which lined a walkway leading down to the small lake I live on (not the Maine Coast, but water all the same). Next, I found roses called “Veteran’s Honor” and “Wild Blue Yonder” (my father was in the Air Force), the, I filled in the area around it with bugleweed (I remember living on base hearing “Taps and Reveille” (which was played with a trumpet, but a bugle is close).  I framed the garden with an archway with climbing roses and wisteria.  I lined the outside of the garden with rocks I found on the property. The final touch was a decorative sign I placed in the front of the garden that reads “Dad’s Garden.”

The next summer, “Dad’s Garden” was glorious, and not only brought me joy where there had so much sadness and gave others visiting the garden an opportunity to see and experience the brighter, happier side of my father’s story. I guess it is amazing what channeling energy in the right direction can do for gardens and other things.

My father was a simple man, not one to want attention or praise, so designing a garden to honor him he might find a bit humbling, but I do know that if there is a choice to be had of my being stuck or moving forward from the experience, he would prefer I move forward and do something worthwhile.  And I also know, or am pretty darn sure that from wherever he is, he is saying; “I was wondering when you were going to stop fussing and get off your butt and finish that garden,” and chuckle…”


So that is how my “The Garden of Hope and Mirth” blog got started and explains my passion for helping and advocating for people with Alzheimer’s Disease-and other types of Dementia in their lives. 

I went on to add more gardens to honor those that have passed away, it is incredible how healing working in the dirt can be. (And the fascination with blowing dirt out of your nose for days to come) Not everyone, of course, has a big yard or area that lends itself to creating gardens, or even the resources, but if you love or even like plants and flowers, you can make it work. 

Someday I may need to move somewhere else and leave my gardens behind, but I have my photos and I have my memories, and in the moments when I created them, planted them and worked them, the gardens served me well and I am grateful.

 As for my father, the town Leaders eventually came and took the children away from their mother (No Child Protective Services during those days).  What happened to my father and his sisters after that is a story for another time.


When I wrote the following as an entry for my Blog “The Garden of Hope and Mirth,” I did not realize how important the idea of hope for our country would be until recent political events have left so many feeling sad and possibly helpless AND SOME POSSIBLY HOPEFUL.  Sometimes the innocence of childhood can put things back into perspective; that being, we all own the right to hope. 

   Weeds and The Cultivation of Hope 

After moving from England to the States, in the 1960s, we settled in Everett Washington. Everett was the city where my father’s Air Force Base, known at the time as Paine Field, was located. The backyard of the home we rented was almost a marshland, very damp. We had a never ending supply of snakes, lizards, frogs, snails (all very harmless) and all the things little boys tend to enjoy and little girls tended to avoid.

My little sister, being very young at the time and being resourceful 5 years old, thought she could put the snakes to good use by using them to practice tying knots, which she had just learned to do and was very proud of herself, for now, she was being able to manage to secure her shoes to her feet by herself, like a “big girl.” However, to her dismay, the knots just were not working out; even though she knew she was doing everything she needed to do to make a knot, the two gardener snakes she had caught and enlisted for the job, were just not cooperating with being tied into a knot. Just as soon as she got one across the other, the snakes would move and undo everything. After several attempts she became frustrated and cried, yelling at the snakes.

My father was the first to hear my sister’s howl of frustration when he went to investigate and saw what she was doing; found it to be very amusing. My mother however, who stepped out a few minutes later to see what all the fuss was about, shrieked in horror, scooped my sister up off of the wet ground and proceeded to take her inside to clean up, as she walked past my father she brandished a very disapproving look his way, while telling my sister to “leave those nasty things alone.”

The poor gardener snakes were just minding their own business, slithering about…
For kids leaving in a very wet area, there were advantages. In addition to all of the creatures, mostly reptiles, there were bodies of water that collected throughout the year forming small and large ponds, and when it got cold enough, those ponds would freeze. The boy who lived across the street had a fairly large pond in his backyard, and when it froze, it became the neighborhood skating rink. No one actually had skates; no one had money for skates, we would just slide around in our shoes in a large circle as if we were at an actual skating rink. It was great fun, occasionally the ice would crack and someone would fall in but it was never deep enough to cause a problem, just really cold wet shoes, socks, and pants.

When spring would come, and the pond began to warm up, life in the pond would start up again. One of the creatures in the ponds was tadpoles which we would collect. We would get used pickle jars; take a rock and a nail and make holes in lids, put the lid back on the jar and place the tadpoles in them submerged with water from the pond.

We would put them on our front porch where we could walk by them daily and check out the progress of the transformation from tadpole to fully formed frog. It was fascinating. Once they were fully fledged frogs, we would put them back in the pond where they came from.
We (three older siblings) did however on one occasion, broke from the tradition of returning the frog directly to the pond when we took one of the frogs and convinced my little sister that putting a frog down my mother’s back would be a good idea (I mean what are little sisters for, if not this, and of course to blame broken things on).

In her trust and wanting to please us, she bought the idea and did just that as my mother stopped down to pick up laundry. The three of us held our breaths our eyes huge in anticipation of our mother’s response. She jumped around a bit, screamed a little bit, worked to get the frog out of her dress, then stood up, looked at my little sister’s innocent face and quickly came to the realization that this was the work of the three older children.

My mother’s response was to tell us to “you kids stop messing around with those frogs.” We were relieved we didn’t get into trouble, but were actually more disappointed, because it seemed so much funnier when people on TV had frogs put down their backs. Oh well, we were amazed we did not get into more trouble, our mother was a pretty good sport about it all.

One of the non-reptilian creatures we had a large abundance of was porcupines. There were only a few dogs in the neighborhood that did not come home with a nose full of porcupine quills at one point or another. Once in a while, we would see a porcupine moving about the wooded area near our home. They were a marvel to look at. But, of course, we knew to not get too close or suffer the same fate as the dogs. Same thing with the skunks, but for a whole other set of reasons as you can imagine.

With the return of the wildlife in the spring, came the return of wildflowers. We loved Buttercups. They were everywhere. They had the ability to turn a green damp marshland into a beautiful array of yellow. We picked them and made bouquets, but they did not last long.

Sometimes lady bugs would be resting on the stem or bud. And of course, you had to say the lady bug chant in unison if you found one…”Ladybug, Ladybug, fly away home….” The thing about Buttercups is that if you put the Buttercup flower under another person’s chin, and if the yellow was reflected against the skin on the bottom side of your chin, it meant you liked butter.

Now, this may not seem like much, but as a child, it was a very neat trick. We also put the Buttercups in our hair and button holes for decoration. They were also a staple for the May Day bouquets we would make to leave on door handles.

Along with the Buttercups was wild clover, the flower was purple and spike-like in appearance. As children, we believed you could pull out the purple spikes, suck the bottom and it would taste like clover. We also looked for clover foliage with four leaves, and when we found one, we would be thrilled because they were “rare” and if you had the good fortune to find one, you could pick it, put it somewhere safe and keep it for good luck. If those green clad Leprechauns with the rainbows and pots of gold say they are good luck, then they must be.

Dandelions which were often mixed in with the Buttercups were pretty, but they stunk. So we usually would leave them be until they became spent, went to seed, and left behind a soft transparent globe-like the flower in their place. It was then, that Dandelions took on a whole new purpose, one very different to lending a bright accent of color at a distance. (I know some of you may not have a fondness for Dandelions when they show up in lawns and gardens, and won’t go away, I am with you. But there is a saying that “Weeds are just flowers in the wrong place.”)

These transparent, globe-like flowers left behind by the Dandelion bloom, would dissipate easily when caught by a breeze. They would come apart in what seemed like hundreds of little pieces and fly away into the wind. This made them the perfect vessel for making a wish.

You know who to make a wish don’t you, just put your lips together, pucker up, feel your cheeks with air, hold out a spent dandelion in front of your mouth, think of something you want, then blow with all your might. Tah Dah!!

As children, we did not worry as much about our wishes coming true or the four leaf clovers providing us with good luck as we often forgot what we wished for and did not have a firm grasp of good luck, but we knew we cherished the ability to have wishes, dreams, and hope. And Mother Nature provided us with that opportunity, it was right there, every summer, spring, and fall, like clockwork. And in the winter, well in the winter there was always hope…fingers crossed…that it would snow!