Mark Ballard

Gardenias are perennial gifts

As I walked through my backyard the other day, I was amazed at how vividly green everything had become as a result of our recent rains. It occurred to me that, even though we frequently look at rain as an inconvenience to our daily activities, we must remember from the dark clouds and wet conditions come beautiful colors and growth.

Now, I certainly missed the sunshine as much as anyone and did my share of complaining. It was apparent that some sort of weather system decided to put down its anchor and hover over Middle Georgia for what seemed like weeks and weeks. But, just like in the tropics, we are now reaping all the benefits from the rain.

With each step I took, the lush grass beneath my feet appeared to be filmed in high-definition Technicolor. Everything was brighter! It was almost surreal. Then it happened. Out of the blue (perhaps I should say green), an intoxicating aroma surrounded me. I was almost overwhelmed with a wonderfully sweet fragrance that could only be one thing — gardenias. Candles try to capture it. Perfumes attempt to bottle it. But the fragrance a fresh pristine white gardenia blossom offers is something that cannot be duplicated.

Most of my gardenia bushes were gifts. One was given to me by my friend Pat many years ago. I had commented on how much I enjoyed coming to visit her when her gardenias were in full bloom. Later that year when she wanted to thank me for something, she opted to give a “living” thank you gift and brought me my own gardenia bush. How wonderful it is that instead of saying thank you once, this gift’s fragrant blooms whisper it over and over with their clean fragrance each and every year. Not to mention having the added benefit of watching it grow.

Another of my gardenia bushes came from Mrs. Lewis who is somewhat of a neighbor to me. I say somewhat because, although she lives a few miles away, her house is right in the middle of my walking route. When I’m exercising, I always opt to walk as far away from my house as I possibly can so I will HAVE to walk the same amount of miles to get back home.

I met Mrs. Lewis one warm, muggy morning as I was walking past her house. First, I smelled her gardenias. They have a funny way of reaching your nose way before you even actually approach them. Once you detect their smell, the game is on. You then have to quickly glance around in a 360-degree spin to determine where they are located. I think gardenias enjoy teasing our senses in this way. It is a little game of hide and seek they play with us.

Once I located the large bushes laden with tons of white gardenia blossoms, I could not help but also notice bush after bush of blue hydrangeas. Her yard offered a virtual party for the senses with all of its beauty and fragrance. At that moment, I knew whoever lived there had to be a loving and sweet person.

By this time I had obviously been lured onto her driveway as if I was under some sort of spell. As I snapped back to reality, the word “trespassing” came to mind! I stood there in her Garden of Eden and wondered what I should do. I did the only thing one could when faced with the chance of being caught. I went right up to her front door and knocked.

The door was opened by a lady who, just by looking at her face, I had already decided was friendly. One thing I had not factored into the equation was that she would recognize me from my television show. A ball cap, dark sunglasses and a thick coat of sweat didn’t hinder her at all in knowing who I was. “You’re Mark Ballard!” she exclaimed. “I love watching you on television.”

We became instant friends — kindred spirits in the world of gardening. I not only received my own personal tour of her garden, I also got an offspring from her mother plant — a rooted gardenia in a coffee can. I cannot tell you how many times I have visited Mrs. Lewis over the years, leaving each time with buckets full of freshly cut hydrangeas and other blooming plants. She was always more than willing to share.

As I approached my gardenia bushes to clip some blooms to take inside, I was reminded from where they came. Then while arranging the beautiful gardenia blooms in vases and placing them around our home to enjoy, I smiled. My original gardenia always reminds me of Pat and our long friendship. The other makes me so glad that I knocked on Mrs. Lewis’ door that hot and muggy morning. Not only did she offer me her friendship and a glass of water, she also gave me another little piece of heaven. Two unselfish ladies had shared gifts with me that keep on giving and I am a lucky fellow to benefit from their kindness each year.

MORE FROM MARK

Ÿ The Cherry Blossom Festival parking lot sale is from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday. Visit the parking lot at the corner of Cherry and New streets in downtown Macon to find bargains galore (including festival merchandise from artists over the years) and support the festival. Call (478) 751-7426 to donate items and for more details. (The Rain date is June 19.)

Ÿ Check out Mark’s Web site, www.markballard.com, for current projects, recipes and lots of other fun stuff for spring!

Ÿ Mark is on www.macon.com 24 hours a day! Videos, columns and articles are featured.

Mark Ballard’s column runs each week in The Telegraph. Send your questions to P.O. Box 4232, Macon, GA; fax them to (478) 474-4390 or call (478) 757-6877.

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