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Heirloom flowers take root

Hazel Marie Campbell


H&T Correspondent

On the Jonesborough Senior Center patio, Hazel Marie Campbell strolled from flower to flower, pointing out the irises and chrysanthemums she donated to the Senior Center earlier this summer.

“They’re not blooming right now,” she said as she bent to point to an iris, which was absent any colorful bud or bloom, “but the chrysanthemums will be in a few weeks. You should come back and see them then.”

The chrysanthemums won’t bloom until after a killing frost, she said, and when they do bloom they’ll be a rust-orange color. She knows because they’ve been in her yard for as long as she can remember.

Campbell inherited the decades-old flowers from her mother, who moved to Jonesborough with her family almost 100 years ago.

“My mom’s family moved from Carter County in 1918,” Campbell said, “and those flowers came with them and were planted there in the yard.”

Her grandparents loved flowers, she said, and so did her mother, Florence Treadway Wagner, so it was only natural for them to bring the blooms along.

“It’s just in the family to like… growing flowers and vegetables,” Campbell said. “Mama could put a stick in the ground and it would grow.”

One of her favorite memories, she said, comes from the lilac bush that was planted in front of her house when she was a child. Her family didn’t have central heating and air, so they opened the windows during the summer to cool the rooms.

“When the wind took that lilac scent all the way through the house,” Campbell said, “now that’s a good memory for me. That lilac scent just going all through the house in the spring.”

Campbell still lives in that house.

“It’s home,” Campbell said. “I’m surrounded by memories of Mom in the kitchen baking biscuits and Dad out with the horses and wagon… I love my little hometown of Jonesborough.”

Her first thought when she considered donating the flowers was the Jonesborough Senior Center.

“We were very touched,” Mary Sanger, director of the Jonesborough Senior Center, said. “She wanted to know the plants would be enjoyed by someone, and we thought it was a great idea to have them here.”

Sanger currently has a plaque in the works to commemorate the donation, and the Senior Center plans to get more flowers from Campbell in the fall. 

Campbell also plans to donate flowers to Cherokee Baptist Church for their garden.

“I want to donate some there at the church where my mom was a member for 60 or 70 years or more,” Campbell said.

Her main goal in donating the flowers is to preserve them, she said.

“I want some of them where they’ll be preserved because there’s going to come a point in time where I can’t live by myself way out in the country anymore,” she said. “I don’t want them taken over with bushes and weeds and honeysuckle.”

Campbell grew up caring for the flowers and has inherited the green thumb of her family members.

“I used to say give me something to dig with and a pile of dirt, and I was happy,” she said. “I loved my big vegetable garden and flower garden and working in the yard.”

However, for the last year or so it has been difficult to do due to health reasons, she said, and she’s had to have help getting work done outdoors.

“I’m afraid those gardening days are over,” Campbell said. “I’d like to see others enjoy (the flowers.) I have a saying, ‘I want my flowers while I’m living, but they won’t do me any good when I’m dead and gone.’” 

Since the irises at the Senior Center were without flower, she brought photographs of some of her irises in bloom to show their color, a pale blue.

“They’re not some of the newer hybrid ones,” she said, pointing to the photograph of her flowerbed at home. “This is an old-timey iris that’s been there forever and ever and ever.”

That’s another reason to preserve them, she said, because they are non-hybrid.

After gazing at the photo for a moment, she put it away, shaking her head.

“I wish my mom knew what all her flowers mean to me.”

The Jonesborough Senior Center is located at 307 E Main St. They are open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday.