“Gardening is a way of showing you believe in tomorrow,” proclaims a colorful plaque in Gayle Spiegel’s attractive living room. The plaque reminds her that you can look forward to what’s blooming in a garden in the same way you look forward to each new day.
When she moved into an apartment complex in Spring City, Pennsylvania, some of her neighbors wanted to know why she took time to create her own little garden out front. Since landscapers took care of the lawns and plantings that were scattered here and there around the complex, they wondered why she bothered. But Gayle wasn’t deterred. She kept working on her little patch of garden and before very long, others began to copy her.
So much interest in gardening developed that the management of the complex began sponsoring an annual contest that still continues. The prize is a $25 gift certificate, and Gayle almost always wins it. She uses the money to buy other things for the garden.
Gayle says her mother was an avid gardener who instilled in her a love of growing things. But she admits that her first attempt at gardening was a total disaster. She planted rows of tomato plants in the long narrow backyard of the apartment where she was living then, but she mistakenly planted them too late and in a place where they didn’t get enough sun.
“They were all green. They never ripened,” she said, chuckling at the memory.
It wasn’t until she moved to Spring City that her love of flower gardening took off. The garden is small but eye-catching, a tribute to Gayle’s ability to make almost anything grow. She uses rocks, chimes, and ceramic garden “critters” to add a touch of whimsy to the assortment of blossoms and greenery.
The garden’s centerpiece is a huge butterfly bush that annually attracts tiny bumblebee hummingbirds and migrating monarch butterflies. The hummingbirds are tiny, less than three inches long, getting their name from the stripes that wrap around their bodies, resembling the stripes of a bumblebee. A pair of these tiny visitors usually arrives every August. Monarch butterflies usually cover the bush for about a month every summer although she said few showed up this year.
Gayle's two daughters: Tasha,on the left, approx. age 14, and Dondi, approx. age 16
“Gardening is a way of showing you believe in tomorrow… [The garden] is a special memorial to her two daughters who died within four years of each other while only in their 20s.”
But the garden Gayle planted in Spring City is more important to her than the flowers that grow there or the wildlife that may visit from time to time. It is a special memorial to her two daughters who died within four years of each other while only in their 20s. Dondi, who died suddenly in 1996 of unknown causes when she was 28, lived in Massachusetts and has a daughter named Deva – Gayle’s only grandchild. Tasha died in 2000 at age 29 after a long illness. She was only two months old when she developed a 107-degree fever that caused severe brain damage and led to cerebral palsy and other serious health problems. Gayle, who dedicated years of her life to caring for her younger daughter, said she actually began creating the garden in Spring City because Tasha loved to sit outside with her and look at the flowers.
“After she died, I used to go to the cemetery all the time,” she said. “But after a while, I felt as if my children were with me, so I put in the garden here at home for them. Everything I plant is in memory of my girls.”
A pair of soil-clad garden gloves drying on a blue painted wooden chair in her front entryway are mute evidence of the time Gayle spends working in her garden. Every year she adds two new varieties of flowers, one for each of the girls. And sometimes she adds other things, like the pair of colorful ceramic mushrooms at one end of the garden.
“I really like the mushrooms because they’re cute and little, and one’s taller than the other just the way the girls were,” she said, explaining that Dondi was five feet, 10 inches tall, while Tasha’s height was only four feet, 11 inches.
The thing that surprises some people is that Gayle, unlike most ardent gardeners, doesn’t know flowers by name. She chooses them because she likes their color or shape. “I see them, I like them, I buy them,” she said.
Gayle describes herself as a “hippie” who once actively protested the Vietnam War, a person whose views were definitely not in the mainstream. Decades later, she still wears her hair long and straight and favors sandals and mid-calf length skirts.
“I’ve always been a spiritual person, and that part of me has kept growing,” she said. “And my garden is a spiritual place to be, reflective of the earth, nature and things that grow, and the love that is put into it.”
Her spirituality recently blossomed into another art form. Under the name of “Loves Words,” she creates hand-made greeting cards with original drawings geared to a particular theme and hand prints thoughtful messages of encouragement. Some have specific themes you won’t find in a regular card shop like the one with three pretty flowers on the front. On closer inspection, you see that the middle flower is a little different. Still pretty, but different. Inside it reads, “The child that is challenged is our teacher and a true gift from God.”
Another has a man sitting at a little table playing cards with a child. The message inside says, “I love spending time with you,” the point being that parents don’t spend enough time with their children. An example of an all-occasion card is one about God that reads: “He is the sun. He is the bird that flies. He is the tree that dances in the wind. He is the song in our hearts. He is all things.”
Gayle has many health issues herself and is unable to work a regular job so she hopes her card-making will turn into a business in the future. She doesn’t have a computer yet to show her samples but people who want to see them can contact her at P.O. Box 156, Spring City PA 19475.
“Making these cards has been a lifelong dream that I’m finally getting to do,” she said.
Gayle makes her cards at home where she lives by herself with a yellow cockatiel names Peaches. The bird, which she’s had since right after it hatched, is as gentle and quiet as Gayle herself.
“I suppose it’s a very quiet bird because that’s the way I am,” she explains.
She originally thought she had a female bird, hence the name "Peaches," but later learned that “Peaches” is probably a boy. Turns out that the twin spots that adorn a cockatiel’s cheeks and look something like small round circles of rouge, are usually light on a female and darker on a male. The spots on “Peaches” cheeks have turned dark.
“But with a name like Peaches, please don’t tell him,” Gayle cautions with a smile.
Thank you Gayle, for sharing your Story with us.
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© 2009 by Joyce Starr Macias and Story of My Life®