Some Things Only Happen Once
Olin Holsomback, Chickamauga, GA
If you think a rhododendron garden is beauty and fragrance, you are right. But I have found that mine is many other things. It has shown itself to be an open air theater where human emotions and foibles pass across its stage. My garden's beauty and fragrance are annually renewed, but some things only happen once.
For instance, in April 1978, a doctor and his wife from Chattanooga visited the garden. After the tour as we were returning to their car, she asked me to walk back with her to the entrance. Roughly horseshoe-shaped, the entrance area is banked on three sides with azaleas. They were then at their blooming peak.
The doctor's wife stood there pensively for several moments, then turned toward me. "I want my granddaughter to be married right here," she told me. Before I could respond, she called her husband to join us. When he did, she pointed to the area she had selected, and said, "Bob, that's where I want Nelda's wedding performed. Don't you think it's perfect?"
After a moment of silence, the doctor answered, "Good God, Millie! Nelda is only three years old!"
Then there was the time when another couple visited the garden. As I was showing them around, the gentleman would pause frequently to gaze around the three acres of plantings. Suddenly he asked me, "Do you hold down a regular job?"
When I replied that I did, he looked at me with a pious scrutiny and said, "How did you ever get into this mess?"
Another day, a couple from a town about 30 miles south of my place drove into the driveway, introduced themselves and wanted to look at the garden. From the beginning, I could tell that the husband had been "forced" to come along. As the wife progressed through the garden, she grew more excited. Abruptly she stopped, telling me she wanted me to come to her place and develop a garden just like mine. Her imaginary garden grew to gargantuan proportions, and as it grew, she became more persistent, aggressive and demanding.
I tried to explain to her that what she envisioned was an impossibility. My garden was not an instant creation but the product of many years. Not to mention the high cost of plants, materials, and long hours of labor.
Ignoring my remarks, she continued to press me for a commitment to produce for her an instant three-acre garden in full bloom.
All this time, Mr. Aikens was observing his wife's strange behavior. From his facial expressions, I'm sure he was having few thoughts of love. Belying his milquetoastean visage, Aikens grabbed his wife by the arm and said in a firm convincing manner, "Mama, we are leaving, and I mean we are leaving right now."
Fortunately, I never heard from her again. Then there was the Sunday afternoon when a lady on her way home from church drove into our driveway requesting to see our garden. I gave her a tour. As she was getting back into her car, she turned to me and said, "You have a beautiful garden. But it's nothing compared to heaven's gardens."
I responded that I never had any intentions of competing with God; I just wanted to work with him.
Later that spring occurred one of those perfect days when all nature seemed at her best. A car drove up, then an attractive lady came to the door asking if she, her daughter and future son-in-law could talk to me. After introductions, the mother said the couple had decided they wanted to be married in my garden. Would I give my permission?
I assumed it was to be a small intimate wedding, but as a precaution, I asked. "It will be a small wedding," the bride-to-be replied. "Not more than 150 are expected."
Regretfully, I had to tell them it was impossible, one reason being that my driveway would accommodate at most only six vehicles. The disappointment on those young faces made me hate to turn down their request.
Since I began my rhododendron garden in 1950, scores of people have walked its paths with me, sharing the quiet beauty from his or her own perspective, each with a particular reason for being there. For whatever reasons they come, I know why I, working with God, have created the garden - for me, it's the magical allurement of the beauty and fragrance. That's what it's all about.