Have you ever been stopped in your tracks by a beautiful scene? A sort of a secret garden? This happened to me a few weeks ago when I came across some beautiful pictures, accompanied by inspiring stories about Rosemary, a mom who loved her garden and the village she called home.
I couldn’t help but want to know more about this story, so I reached out to Terry, Rosemary’s son who was sharing these beautiful pictures, and invited him to tell us a bit more about the work he did with his mom to preserve the history of their village. Here’s his story.
An old village from the 1800’s stills exists, tucked away in a verdant valley. It’s a place called Meadowvale.
A country road at the edge of the village follows the contours of a hill. There’s a view from the hilltop road of a garden. A sign reads “Rosemary’s Garden.” It’s my mother’s garden. She created her garden with a little help from me.
I lost my mother over two years ago. I try to tend to her garden with the same loving care she gave it. It’s something unique, an expression of the special experience of living in a historic village that became our home.
A Garden Theme
My mother’s garden almost disappeared.
A decade after losing my father, another heartbreaking situation came close to breaking my mother’s spirit. I didn’t know what to do, and then an idea dawned on me. I would attempt to build her a garden shed, a special one, a building that reflected the character and history of our village.
Not having much experience in building, I studied some old structures, then went to work. Six weeks later, a little cabin stood in Rosemary’s garden. She loved it. It put a smile on her face once again and restored her enthusiasm for the garden. She called it the “Harrowsmith House,” a reference to an agricultural past.
Rosemary filled it up with antiques, old photographs, and keepsakes. Chairs set up inside made comfortable resting places, where views of the garden could be enjoyed through the windows, with a cup of tea in hand. Mom and I were to enjoy such sessions often when taking a break from work in the garden.
My mother knew much of the history of Meadowvale, from first-hand experience. When my parents first began married life here, the old village mill was still standing. With the success of the Harrowsmith House, we began to really embrace the idea of creating historically-themed structures in the garden.
One day, Mom handed me a sketch she had made. It was the old mill. She said, “I know you could build this, Terry.” Her sketch wasn’t an exact architectural drawing. It was an artistic impression of the mill she had known. There was an alluring quality to the sketch, as it somehow drew you into a feeling that what it represented came from the past.
I used the sketch as my guide and was very faithful to the design my mother had drawn. We had a source for reclaimed lumber, from a scrap pile, so almost no expense was involved. It would only cost our time and labor. When finished, the mill stood proudly on a gently rising slope at the back of the yard.
The Church in the Wildwood
Rosemary’s vision of the garden was to expand. Her next suggestion was that there should be a church.
One day, while looking at items in a recycle store, she found the perfect doors and windows for building the little church she had envisioned. By this stage, I was truly excited about the prospects of creating an entire village, a little “village-in-the-garden.”
As a History teacher by profession, the whole idea had a great appeal.
Mom obtained free paint from a recycling depot, and mixed her own colors for the floor, doors, windows, and trim. As soon as I completed the building, Rosemary painted everything.
To signify the “call to the faithful,” I designed a bell tower, climbed to the top of the roof, and installed it. I guess you’d call our little church non-denominational. It was there for anyone who wanted it, to go inside, sit down on one of the benches, and just reflect on personal thoughts and feelings.
A peaceful garden seems to be a good place for having some quiet moments.
When I was a little boy, my mother used to take me on one evening, every week, to the Meadowvale library. It was a tiny building, hardly more than a shed, but the shelves were well stocked with an impressive variety of books. The pages of those books opened my eyes and mind to many wonders of this world. My mother loved books and would walk me home with her arms full of the ones she had signed out.
When the library was closed and torn down, against the wishes of everyone in the village, it was a sad occasion. Recalling those days, I asked Mom a question: “How would you like to have a library in your garden?” Her face lit up instantly. She’d love it. I went to work right away.
When construction of the library was completed, Rosemary went about filling the shelves with books she found in second-hand stores, at garage sales, and anywhere else she could obtain old treasures to read.
She restored a Meadowvale tradition, by opening her library to everyone on Thursdays. Neighbors came eagerly, and in the summer months enjoyed walking the garden paths, strolling past the colorful beds of flowers. Reading was never more scenic!
A Garden for All Seasons
With ample space to keep adding to our emerging village, we also created:
- a second mill
- three stores
- a wagon maker’s shop
- a blacksmith’s shop
- a mill worker’s house
- a train station
- and a covered bridge
By the time we had done all of this, many people were stopping on the hill behind our garden, curious to have a look. It was one snowy day in February when I realized that my mother’s garden was a garden for all seasons. A young couple had been walking along the edge of the hilltop road when they came upon a view of the old-fashioned village in the garden. I was clearing some snow at my mother’s back door. The couple hadn’t noticed me. They leaned over the guardrail for a better look. I heard the man exclaim, in a very clear voice and enthusiastic tone, “What a beautiful garden!”
Without a flower in sight, the man and woman were enjoying their panoramic view of Rosemary’s garden. I went inside the house to tell Mom about their reaction. I could tell by the look on her face that she was very pleased, but she didn’t say much. Mom never wanted to accept praise for anything she did. I think we both enjoyed that “review” of the garden, though.
Individuals, families, and various groups (garden clubs, youth groups, seniors, church congregations, and schools), upon becoming aware of Rosemary’s little village, requested tours. Word about the village began to spread, more and more, as time went on.
The City of Mississauga, of which the village of Meadowvale is a part, was pleased with our efforts to preserve local history. The City presented us with several heritage awards for our work. We began to have an Open House Weekend every fall. Hundreds showed up on each occasion, to see the little village created basically out of leftover “scraps,” items and materials that had been discarded in one place or another.
My mother and I had worked for years, alongside each other, to make it all happen. I was always close by, as my humble, little house was less than a hundred feet away from Mom’s house. Our efforts were performed with determination and enthusiasm. We didn’t have much money for the project, and I think our reliance on finding, and not buying, what we needed, actually added a lot of character to the results. People seemed to sense that it was a “labor of love.”
Decorating the Little Village
Part of the fun of having a little, old-fashioned village is being able to decorate it for special times, such as Halloween and Christmas. In October, it became the “Haunted Village.” Ghosts, goblins, and ghouls inhabited the garden, which I elaborately staged for maximum scary thrills.
Children walked over the covered bridge with excited nervousness, wondering what might be under it, or what they might encounter just ahead. At the top of the hill stood the “Haunted House,” with a grotesque-looking witch swinging on her broom.
The character of the garden changed completely during the Christmas season. The library became “Santa’s Workshop.” Santa stood in front of his workshop, with his sleigh loaded up with presents, and his team of reindeer at the ready. School buses passed by on the hilltop road during this season, and the children aboard the buses had a good window into the magic of Christmas, on display at the foot of the hill.
From Pictures to Stories
Some friends told me about online garden groups and said I should post some pictures of our little village. Following their advice, I posted pictures on a few sites and was astounded by the reaction. It seemed as if everyone loved the concept. Thousands and thousands responded, and many had questions about the village.
Starting out with simple answers to the various questions, I began to tell more and more about our “village-in-the-garden.” Gradually, my explanations evolved into little stories about life here.
People kept asking for more. It was about this time that my mother was diagnosed with cancer, an illness that was to take her life. For five years, Mom had surgeries, radiation, and all kinds of treatments. She kept tending to her garden until she grew too weak to carry on.
I couldn’t bear to see how debilitating my mother’s illness was becoming, and turned to writing to try to cope. My stories became more involved, more heartfelt. Readers fell in love with Rosemary, as they learned about her life and her character. They learned about how, when someone in our village of Meadowvale was struck with illness or some tragedy, Rosemary was the first person to arrive at their doorstep, with some homemade food and a sympathetic heart. I cried my way through writing those stories.
My readers began to urge me to write a book, something I had never considered up to that point in time.
When my mother passed away, I thought it would be a wonderful way to honor her memory, but I knew nothing about how to get published. “Out of the blue,” as they say, I received a message from someone who was to become my “guardian angel.” A Janice Tully Wilmot contacted me. She, like others, had discovered my stories online. “Terry, I love your stories! They need to be read by a wider audience!” Janice told me. She had decades of experience in editing and publishing and offered to guide me through the entire process, wanting nothing in return.
By November of 2020, “Rosemary’s Village” was published. The response exceeded my best expectations. I was amazed at how much interest there was in learning about the life of my mother. Our family never had much money. Mom never had fancy clothes, never could afford to go to a hairdresser, and rarely had any new furniture or even up-to-date appliances. Rosemary’s priorities were in seeing to the needs of her children. A better mother could not have been asked for.
Readers became absorbed in stories of her selfless ways and kind heart. There was more to her story. I kept writing. In September of 2021, “In Rosemary’s Garden” was published, and in April of this year, “Home With Rosemary” was published. I’m still telling Mom’s story, the story of someone who never wanted special things for herself, and made her life a gift to everyone who ever met her.
I’m doing my best to carry on, here in the “village-in-the-garden,” without Mom’s help and encouragement. She was my best friend, my confidante, my greatest supporter, and as beautiful a spirit as I’ve known.
There’s a lot of work to keep up with everything, but I’ll see how long I can last. Quoting the words to the song, “Gonna Build a Mountain,” I can only say, “I don’t know how I’m gonna do it, I only know I’m gonna try, I’m gonna try.” I’m also still writing the stories. I want to complete a final book in honor of my mother’s memory. I already have the title: “To Rosemary, With Love.” I’ll think about what I want to say, as I work amid the flowers in this place of beauty, known as “Rosemary’s Garden.”
“Rosemary’s Village” is the story of how a mother and son, working side by side, preserved a village’s past in a garden setting and tells of a family’s life in the beautiful, historic village of Meadowvale.
“In Rosemary’s Garden” takes readers back to a garden in old Meadowvale, with stories that delve into the lives of Rosemary and her family, in a village where the charm of earlier times has survived.
“Home With Rosemary” returns, once more, to a place that has scarcely changed in over a century, and a home’s beautiful garden, with an intimate look into the lives of Rosemary and her family.
I hope you’ve been inspired by Rosemary’s story and are ready to build a secret garden in your own backyard. Get Terry’s books and read the stories from Rosemary’s life.
Do you have a garden story of your own? I’d love to feature you too. Reach out to me here to get started.