Dulcy Mahar leaves a lot of love behind
- Barbara Ashmun
- Portland Tribune - Features
I will remember Dulcy Mahar for the love she leaves behind.
She loved her garden with all its imperfections and challenges. Whenever Dulcy wrote about a plant that died, I commiserated and also sighed with relief - that's the way it is to garden, to suffer losses, then pick yourself up and start over. Dulcy would plant a new treasure, and we'd all cheer - that's what gardening is all about.
Dulcy's love for her husband Ted permeated her columns, even though he didn't garden. How many of with non-gardening spouses were comforted to hear that? She loved writing about Doug the Wonder Guy, the assistant gardener we all coveted. A friend once admitted she hoped to clone him.
Dulcy's insatiable lust for new plants, her frequent nursery expeditions without the ridiculous restraint of a shopping list, and inability to resist whatever enticed her, endeared her to me most of all.
If it was beautiful, she bought it, took it home, then figured out where to put it. She was a woman after my own heart.
Over the garden fence
Even through years of battling cancer, Dulcy worked full time and kept writing the column. On one garden visit we sat on her porch and talked about the importance of work. 'I'm not considered an invalid there,' she said.
She told me she wrote on Sunday nights, modestly describing herself as 'a good carpenter' who turned out well-crafted features. That was Dulcy to the core, always minimizing her talents. She had a remarkable gift for telling her stories as if she were talking straight to us, with what writers call 'voice.' But believe me, artful writing is nothing like speaking. Dulcy wrote so skillfully, it just sounded like she was chatting with us over the garden fence.
Even into her final spring, Dulcy generously opened her garden to visitors. Throughout the years, her ever-changing garden was a destination for many tours. She was always herself, even when she welcomed British celebrities like Christopher Lloyd and Rosemary Verey.
I imagine they felt right at home, just like the rest of us, amid familiar plants tended with so much love. I also bet they envied her freedom to have flamingos, gnomes and a Pouting Shed in the garden.
On my last visit to Dulcy's garden, my camera battery died, leaving me free to sit on the blue bench facing the pond and just look. I breathed in the serene beauty, calmed by the rush of water. A gray cat lept across the path and landed in my lap. Ecstasy.
Dulcy could never say no, even when asked to pose for Soul of the Soil, a celebrity nudie calendar benefiting a children's garden. But unlike the rest of us who were persuaded to take off our clothes, Dulcy was clever enough to keep her nightie on, and held a favorite cat in her lap.
But my favorite photo of Dulcy was one that accompanied a column, taken on an infernally hot August day when plants and gardeners pass out. Lying prone on her stomach with her arms stretched out, she was the epitome of late summer exhaustion.
Dulcy and I sat on two panels for the Yard, Garden and Patio Show, one in 2010 on Bloopers I've Made in My Garden, and another in 2011 on Our Favorite Plants. Both times the room was packed, with people leaning against the walls and sitting on the floor. No one wanted to miss a word of Dulcy's true confessions - she stole the show both times.
About bloopers, Dulcy confessed her first flower borders 'looked like two graves. Nobody told me about adding compost, and the plants did not prosper.'
Later she learned about Kosher's compost. 'It wasn't blessed by rabbis - the gentleman's name is Kosher,' she added.
Next, she noticed an entire bed of perennials was too flat. On a trip to England, she observed borders with trees and shrubs; she went home and added them into her borders.
'Now there's too much foliage and I need more perennials,' she said. It's always something.
'I can't help myself'
Dulcy's final words of advice were 'Don't overly follow the rules.' She promised to continue being 'over-the-top.' Even after deciding to give up growing roses, she ordered more, although only very disease resistant varieties.
'I can't help myself,' she admitted.
That in a nutshell may be what we will remember and love Dulcy most for-her insatiable love of life, her lust for plants, not to mention cats, dogs, flamingos and gnomes.
Our best tribute to Dulcy is to follow in her footsteps, gardening with passion, gardening with love.