Heaven’s garden has a new willing worker

Ora Holland and Clovis Pullig

Ora Holland and Clovis Pullig

Earlier this week a funeral was held for one of my hometown gardening idols, Ora Holland. Greeting her at the pearly gates I’m sure was Clovis Pullig, my other hometown gardening inspiration, who passed away last year. In honor of these two wonderful Christian ladies, I’m running a story I wrote about them for The Times in 2007, when they had both reached 90 years old and could still be found tending their flowers.

Last Sunday was Homecoming at my hometown church, Ashland Baptist, an event I try never to miss.

It’s a yearly step back to when I was a child, to a place where all I have to say to someone who is having trouble recognizing my face is “I’m Doyle and Fairy’s girl.”

It’s good to have things you can count on, and at Homecoming you know the service will include old gospel hymns, both joyful songs that will make you smile, like “I’ll Fly Away,” and mournful tunes that will make you tear up, like “Wayfaring Stranger.” There’s sure to be a guest preacher who will bring a good message, but everyone will be anxious for it to end so they can get to the main event: fellowship and the homemade feast waiting in dozens of covered pots, Corningware dishes and Tupperware containers in the back.

And, for as long as I and most other folks who have ever been members of the church can remember, you can count on Clovis Pullig and Ora Holland being there.

The two ladies — known to all as Miss Clovis and Miss Ora, even though both were married — are the rocks churches are built on. They’ve taught Sunday school, rocked babies in the nursery, prayed a path to heaven and cooked for countless pot lucks.

And, at 90 years old, they are both still active gardeners. So after I swallowed the last bite of Miss Clovis’ famous chocolate pie, I stopped by for a visit with each to find out what drew them to gardening and why they’re still carefully tending their flowers.

While Miss Clovis always gardened a little, she didn’t get serious until she retired from teaching school 30 years ago. Drive by her house in early summer and you won’t have to ask what her favorite flower is. You’ll just know. Day lilies are everywhere.

Her first came through a friend who took her to the home of a woman who sold them.

“That was my beginning. I still have that row of day lilies,” Miss Clovis said.

Those beauties have plenty of company, many purchased from mail order catalogs.

“The upkeep was kind of easy,” she said. “As I got older, my philosophy was the strongest will survive.”

Other favorites are zinnias, marigolds, lantana and periwinkles, all flowers that can take the heat without too much water. In winter, she sets out pansies, dianthus and 50 to 60 tulip bulbs.

“I just think it’s good to get out and dig in the dirt,” Miss Clovis said. “I think it’s healthy.”

And while she’ll tell you she’s slowed some, I’m not sure I believe her. My brother said he saw her last week hoeing grass out of her flower beds at a pace he couldn’t have kept up.

That’s not the way she sees it, of course.

“I’ve always been slow and age has not speeded me up,” she declared.

Miss Ora, who’ll be 91 next month, began gardening with her husband.

“He liked to fool with flowers,” she said.

After he passed away 30 years ago, she kept going.

“I would stay out till dark time, setting out flowers, raking.”

The beds scattered about her yard are filled mostly with passalong plants.

“I sure haven’t spent much money on flowers,” she said.

You couldn’t tell by looking.

I caught a glimpse of my very first peony in her yard and nearly ran off the road as I flew by on my way to visit family. Roses are a particular favorite. But not store-bought ones.

“I’ve bought rose bushes and they would die,” she said.

Instead, she has rooted countless cuttings of a pink rose given to her by a neighbor, spreading them both around her yard and to friends and family all over the area.

A recent addition to her yard is a bottle tree put up by her great-grandson.

In the last year, problems with her balance have slowed her down a bit, but can’t keep her inside. She uses an old riding lawn mower to get around the yard, pulling a trailer with her tools behind her.

“If I see something that needs doing, I’ll stop and do it,” Miss Ora said.

Chairs are positioned near flower beds so she doesn’t have to stand to work.

“I’ll sit in a chair and hoe a little bit and I’ll move it and do something else.”

Ask her why she still gardens and she doesn’t hesitate.

“Pleasure. Sharing my flowers.”

As you might expect, a piece of red verbena from her yard is, hopefully, rooting right now in my yard.

As you also might expect, I didn’t dig it up.

Miss Ora did.

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