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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 using the lake. The rest of the time, we could be out there for hours on end and never see anyone else. Because of this, Lake Gertrude was 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.

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, we always had to stop at our favorite garden–a strip of garden that was the sensation every year. 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. This was "The 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.

Since the 80s, my life has gone 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 got sick. I had to sell everything and return to the US, when she was misdiagnosed as having a type of muscular dystrophy. My husband 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. I stayed in the US to help pay for them. 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.

It was many years later after both my father and mother in laws had passed away, and our lives had gone in many other directions, that we 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. There was a guy working on the garden.  I stopped to talk with him and he told me the story of the garden. 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 the same. I imagine, mainly, to keep Lee alive.  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.




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