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The Souvenir of Western Women/My Mother's Flower Garden

< The Souvenir of Western Women

My Mother's Flower Garden

By CHARLOTTE MATHENY KIRKWOOD

MY mother, Mary Cooper Matheny, spent her childhood and youth under the vine-clad arbors of an old Kentucky home, flowers, vines and trees her constant companions. In preparing to come westward she carefully gathered seeds from flowers and shrubs. These she brought across the plains. Mother's seed sack occupied the safest corner in wagon or tent. After leaving the wagons at The Dalles, she carried her seed sack at the horn of her saddle through the Cascade Mountains to Oregon City, where the company arrived November 8, 1843.

In the spring of '44 my mother planted some of her seeds on a plot of ground near the present site of the town of Hillsboro. Later in the season my father bought a farm on the "Willamette River just opposite the old Methodist Mission, then in ruins. To this place mother removed her flowers, and also planted other seeds. The result exceeded expectations; her garden became a dream of beauty. All the Sweet old-fashioned favorites vied with each other in the blending of brilliant hues; throngs of gaily tinted butterflies and emerald and bronze humming birds reveled in the perfume-laden breath of pinks and roses.

Of the pinks she had a fine collection. The second year, when they began to bloom, she carefully culled the plants, saving only the most perfect. This she continued to do until her pinks in size and beauty were almost equal to the modern carnation. Also she rescued the old "Mission Rose" from the ruins of the mission, where it was having a hard fight to maintain its standard over native brush and bramble, as the only living representative of the civilized home. It blooms to-day in my own garden.

Among her collection were seeds of the old English sweet brier, prized for the beauty and fragrance of its foliage as well as for its dainty flowers and scarlet berries. A beautiful hedge shrub in some countries, but kissed by the bright sun and warm rains of Oregon, its elsewhere gentle nature has developed qualities most aggressive. Borne on the wings of bird and bee, it now presses its long prickly branches into the depths of our forests and along our lanes from the Willamette to the Pacific.

My mother was justly proud of her garden, for it was the first real flower garden in all this Northwest country. Many a plant and seed has been carried from it to brighten other homes throughout the Willamette Valley. Travelers always stopped to admire mother's flowers and engage seeds for next year's planting, which she gave a free-will offering. To-day a scion from the old historic "Mission Rose" sheds its fragrance upon her narrow bed in the cemetery near her home on the banks of the Willamette.