Lee’s Garden

In the 1980’s, Connie, my mother-in-law, lived on Lake Gertrude, a beautiful lake in Mount Dora, Florida. In the early 80’s Mount Dora was a sleepy little town, mainly a retirement community. For the most part, if you saw anyone younger than 60 walking the streets you stopped and talked to them to find out who they were visiting. The majority of the people that lived around the lake were too old to use it. Only on weekends and holidays would you have grandchildren visiting and frolicking in the lake. The rest of the time, we could be out there for hours on end and never see anyone else. This made Lake Gertrude our private heaven. We all spent most of the time in the water, skiing, sailing, windsurfing, tubing, diving, floating, canoeing, etc. There was nothing that we didn’t do on that lake. It was an integral part of our lives. My daughter learned to stand up in that lake holding on to a beach chair in the water. She later learned to swim there too.

Lake Gertrude is shaped like the number 8. There is a sidewalk that circles the smaller part of the 8 . This is a favorite sidewalk for joggers, walkers and cyclists. It is just beautiful since it takes you through all the fabulous gardens on the lake. Part of our entertainment has always been to take a stroll and check out the gardens – what is flowering, what has changed, what has been added, etc.

Back in the 80s, no matter where we lived, we always came back to Mount Dora for all the holidays and any other excuse we could conger up. Walking the path around the lake was a must and going to see the special garden–a strip of garden that was the sensation every year–was part of the experience. My father-in-law would come to visit and it was one of the first things we would do: check to see what was blooming in the special garden. In early spring there were Alyssums and different kinds of bulbs. In late spring, every color of giant snap dragons that you can grow. Late summer started the next explosion of colors with the Zinnias. Every size, every type, every color.

After the 80s, my life went in many directions. In 1981 my husband and I separated then divorced. I moved to the southeast coast of the Dominican Republic, got a job at Altos de Chavón, an artist village and pursued a career as a graphic designer, manager of art galleries, and watercolor artist. I was on my own for the first time in my life. Two years went by really fast in fun and games there until my 4 year old daughter was diagnosed with a type of muscular dystrophy. I had to sell everything and return to the US. My husband Tommy and I got together to form a front and heal our daughter. She started recovering and soon we owed a ton of money in hospital bill, so I was forced to stay in the US to help pay them back. I came back to Mount Dora, where I lived for a couple more years. In the mean time, I was back on our favorite lake and our favorite garden.

Many years later, both my father and mother in laws had passed away and our lives had gone in many other directions, Tommy and I moved back to Lake Gertrude. We bought a little Bungalow across the street from the lake. It was heaven to have access to the lake and the gardens.

One day, while on my daily stroll around the lake, I went to check out the special garden. I spotted a gentleman busy at work so I stopped to talk with him. He was nice enough to share his story. His name was Lee. He had been tending this garden for fifty years. The lady who owned the home had hired him to keep that garden since 1955–I was 4 years old. In 2005, when I met him, the lady had just passed away and her son was trying to keep the garden going. I imagine, mainly, to help Lee and keep the memory of his mother alive. He had worked on this garden every year from the time I was a child. Tending to these plants with patience and care. Changing out the beds season after season. Preparing them for winter.

The next year, as soon as spring came, I went to check on the garden. To my dismay, there was nothing but a couple of bulbs that had religiously bloomed in part of the garden for year. But no more snap dragons, or zinnias, or anything else.

Since then, Lee moved to Ettonville, outside of Orlando, with his daughter. His garden is long gone. The heirs of the home where the garden was were not able to keep the garden the way Lee kept it and, for some daffodils, everything else has died now. I am glad that I was able to speak with Lee and take photos of his beautiful flowers. I keep thinking about all the things I have done since I was 4 years old, and, while I was doing them, Lee was working in the garden. Something to ponder.