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Where I’m From

by Jim Allen

Pass Along

I was just made aware of the demise of a lady I used to work with. She’d married a man from Tennessee several years after a divorce from her first husband of over three decades. I hadn’t seen her in about ten years.

During her divorce, she asked me if I wanted some yucca plants her mother had given her from the family’s place in south Marion County. She was moving to an apartment and wouldn’t have a lawn to be able to keep them. If she got a place in the future, she had given some to her son and could get a start from him.

My wife and I went over and dug up a couple of small pups that stuck their heads from under the dangerously pointed, leafed skirt of their mother. I already had native bear grass yucca and a type that grew a trunk and would get about eight-feet tall. This plant had leaves about three-feet long, with a very round, compact shape and no trunk. I planted them in our lawn.

When we moved several years later, I took a couple of pups from my parent plants and installed them in our new landscape. This process has been repeated twice again and at each stop, I’ve given young yuccas to those interested. As with so many plants that have been shared with me over the years by my gardening friends, I’ll always remember where this yucca came from. This plant will always remind me of Anna.

Such a plant is called a ‘pass along plant.’ Before nurseries, mail order and, now, the internet, that’s the only way our ancestors had to collect plants. I think back to my childhood and all my mother’s plants. I don’t remember her buying a single sprig of anything.

Back where I’m from, before my time, there was a person who was supposed to be one of the best gardeners to have ever lived in those parts. They said if she took a hankering, she could root a fingernail and grow somebody. Her name was Zanor (short for Leighsanor) Mihanovic, a second generation descendent of Croatians who immigrated there in the latter part of the 19th century. Her folks had been clothiers in a larger town about 100 miles to the south and had done quite well. They had managed to send her to a good boarding school in New Orleans and later she had attended the land grant university where she met her future husband. He was the son of an older plantation owner in our county whose first wife had died during childbirth. When the son graduated from university, he was charged with running the farm. He sent for Zanor and they were married that year.

They had a large house that had been in his family for generations. The couple often had guests, usually during the day where she could show off the very old garden surrounding their home.

She had a propensity for gardening, it is said, she got from her mother. She grew herbs nobody had ever heard of and salad greens with names nobody could pronounce, all inherited from her mother. She had spider lilies, milk and wine lilies, and daffodils she had also gotten from her mother and acquaintances of her mother. Over her nearly 90 years, from her friends, church women, neighbors and beauty shop ladies, she collected heirloom roses, more daffodils and jonquils, fig trees, amaryllis, oxalis, mahonia, nandina, monkey grass, sweet peas, bleeding heart, gardenia, hydrangea, English dogwood, hyacinths, horsetail, bamboo, quince, forsythia, flowering almond, ivies, periwinkle, hollyhocks, banana trees, cannas, elephant ears, arums, flowering onions and more. She had also collected houseplants like palms, pothos, Mother-In-Law’s tongue, airplane plant, philodendron, Christmas and Easter cacti, monstera and aloe she placed or hung in her Victorian glass house or her sunken breakfast room.

Around their silver anniversary, Zanor’s husband got pneumonia and a few weeks later she found herself burying him in the family plot that could be seen, when all the lush foliage of the garden was taken by winter’s cold, from that breakfast room.

She had many friends who brought friends by to meet her and walk the meandering trails of her piece of paradise. If any visitor showed interest she’d snip them off a cutting, wrap it in wet toilet paper, stick it in an old bread bag and hand it to them. If they said "thank you," she’d tell them vocal appreciation for a plant was bad luck and they should just promise to give her ‘baby’ a good home and share with others when they got a chance. Everybody who walked away from her garden with a plant, cutting or seed remembered it came from Zanor.

A niece of her husband had always loved to spend weekends there as a child and, at their delight, had moved in with them when she got out of college. She was a copy editor for a publishing company in New York and had an agreement with them to do her work there in the country via RFD. The young lady was a plant person herself and could sit amongst the flora with her manuscripts from shortly after breakfast to near dark.

Zanor hated to leave her wonderful life, but eventually she had no choice. In her will she left instructions to be cremated. The only place where this could be done was so far away it took about two weeks for the ashes to be returned. When her clay jar of remains did arrive, as agreed upon, she was sprinkled by the niece, ever so lightly, over the entire garden she had worked so hard to preserve and build upon.

I have, from her garden, seeds of a Jewel of Opar plant I have saved, replanted and given away for years…one of her babies.

Disclaimer: The story you just read is based on reality. The names have been changed to protect the innocent. Any likeness any character in this story has to you, your family or anybody you know or have known is completely coincidental.


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Date Last Updated January, 2006