My Mother-in-Law's Garden
By Author Heather Day Gilbert
When my oldest was about to turn one and I was pregnant with my second child, we moved to my husband's small hometown in Western New York—just up the road from his parents' family farm. I hadn't been much of a flower gardener before that time, but in New York, I had a yard of my own, so I wanted to fill it with beautiful perennials like the ones my mother-in-law grew in her flowerbeds.
She was the perfect mentor when it came to my endeavors—both when it came to flowerbeds and to childrearing. She helped me choose bulbs from reliable flower companies, and she delighted as much as I did to see the plants emerging the next spring. We discussed everything from the birds at the feeders to potty training, from schooling choices to making pizza crust (I still use her delicious recipe for that!). She was one of the best listeners I've ever met.
When my children were small, she would often drive the riding lawnmower up the road and mow our sprawling yard for me, so I didn't have to get out and do it. She'd watch my youngest as I homeschooled my older ones.
She'd make us a hearty meal every Sunday afternoon, so we could get together and our children could play in the same multi-generational home my husband had grown up in.
As Mom got older and her diabetes made things more difficult, her daughter, son, and I would spend time weeding, mulching, and rearranging her flowerbeds. They were true showstoppers, full of all colors of tulips, iris, phlox, and more. Mom would sometimes sit out and talk to us as we worked. It was often difficult work in the bright sun, but it was worth every bit of it to know how much Mom—and anyone driving down the road—would enjoy the finished product.
Six years later, we moved away, but in each house we lived in afterward, I took my new knowledge of flowerbeds with me, planting tulips, iris, and hostas wherever we went—often transplanting some of Mom's bulbs into my beds. One time, I inadvertently dug up her spiky purple liatris bulbs, only to be shocked when they came up in my flowerbed instead of hers the next year! I apologized profusely, but we had a good laugh over my unintentional theft. The liatris is still happy and healthy in my flowerbed, and it attracts lots of butterflies.
In 2020, my special mother-in-law surprised us all by slipping home to heaven. She'd had health difficulties for years, but no one is prepared when death comes so suddenly. A pivotal part of my children's upbringing and of my growth as a wife and mother was lost to us—for now.
I still have so many things I wish I could tell Mom, but I know she's probably surrounded by beautiful flowers in heaven. Every time I watch my flowers emerge in the spring, every time the robins and the hummingbirds return, every time I make a particularly tasty recipe, every time my children do something that would make her proud, I wish I could share it with her.
Most people joke about their mothers-in-law, but mine was a true friend, someone I loved spending time with. She was my Naomi, and I'm so thankful for every moment she spent listening to me and genuinely encouraging me in some of the busiest days of my life.
Our mutual love of flowers was only a small facet of our relationship, but watching those perennials come up every year always reminds me of how blessed I was to have her in my life, and I'm so glad I can be sure I'll see her again in heaven someday.
About the author
Heather Day Gilbert is a 2-time ECPA Christy Award finalist who enjoys writing mysteries and Viking historicals. She brings authentic family relationships to the page, and she particularly delights in heroines who take a stand to protect those they love. When she's not plotting stories, this native West Virginian can often be found hanging out with her husband and four children, playing video games, or reading Agatha Christie novels.
You can find her books on