Jessi Norris keeps her family and friends close by — in her gardens at her home.
She has cuttings of plants from several relatives’ and friends’ gardens. Each morning, she goes into her gardens and greets loved ones as she looks at her flowers and plants.
The 71-year-old remembers taking family vacations to her grandmother’s home in Forsyth, Mont., each year. That sparked her interest in flowers and plants.
“My grandmother, I’m her namesake, was a huge gardener,” Norris said. “She won multiple ribbons for her flowers. I can remember her beautiful flowers. I enjoy them, the butterflies around them and the aroma.”
When she and her husband, Frank, were first married, Norris didn’t drive so her life was her children and her home. She entertained herself by gardening and when they were old enough, her girls helped, too.
“Gardening is like an instant gratification,” she said. “You can see an area that’s all weeded and overgrown. It might be beautiful with flowers, but may be so overgrown. You get in there and clean it out and then the flowers can breathe and multiply. That’s one of the reasons why I enjoy it. And it really doesn’t cost that much to do.”
Norris had her first real garden when she and her husband, who was military, were stationed in Virginia, but it was very minimal.
She continued gardening when they moved to South Carolina.
When they arrived in Wayne County, Norris was having eye problems and couldn’t drive anymore. So gardening became a bigger part of her life.
“At our house in Mar-Mac, I planted so much,” she said. “The girls helped and we had a lot of fun. I made gardens and planted flowers and bushes. We took a chunk of trunk from a tree and Frank hollowed it out for me to fill with potting soil and flowers.”
Norris learned a lot more about gardening when she worked at Landscape Design when she was about 40. She learned how to take cuttings off plants to make new starters, which she does with her own plants now. She learned all about fertilizing and how to place plants that are compatible with each other.
The Norrises have lived at their current home for about 20 years, and they have a showcase yard, front, back and sides.
Norris took cuttings and rootings from her Mar-Mac home and planted them at her new home.
“Just listening to the birds that the flowers draw and seeing all the colors of the flowers gives me pleasure,” she said.
And knowing that she has memories of family and friends everywhere in her gardens makes it even more enjoyable.
“Frank is from Maryland, and we go up there every so often,” Norris said. “His sister loves to garden so I take her plants from my garden and come back with some from her garden. I can walk around and say, ‘This is my sister-in-law’s flowers.’ I have my family in my garden, so some of my flowers have sentimental value, too.”
She also has a lilac bush that came out of her husband’s family’s farm in Maryland.
“I have a batch of black-eyed Susans,” Norris said. “They came from the roadside in Maryland. Frank would go into the tobacco field with his father when we went to visit and I’d hang with his mother. She loved gardening, too. When we would go into town, we would drive by the black-eyed Susans in the ditch along the roadside. It’s the state flower. They’d be growing wild.
“His mother learned if we were coming to visit, keep a shovel in the back of her car. I dug them up with his mother, who is no longer with us. Every time they bloom now, I go, ‘Hi, mom.’ It is so special.”
Norris also has some red and pink hibiscus that are special to her because she brought them back from the Amish market in Maryland.
There are some peonies in front of the house that are also special to Norris.
“I dug them up and brought them back when I was visiting my sister in Oregon years and years ago,” she said. “Now I have my sister in my garden, too. I only see her maybe once every five years, but we talk to each other every morning while having our coffee. She says she wishes she was here with me. I tell her she is in spirit and in my garden.”
An island in the front yard is centered around a Japanese cherry tree. There is a gardenia bush surrounded by a row of pink wave petunias on the outside. In the inside of the island are artemisia, a ground cover given to her by her neighbor. In the center are lime colored sweet potatoes in a chartreuse color.
“On the right side are spirias given to me by another neighbor,” Norris said. “They moved to Texas. We were really close. So I have my neighbor Jean in my garden. When they bloom, I go, ‘Good morning, Jean.’ I’ll give her a call and say, ‘Jean, we’re blooming.’”
In the back yard is an island with a crepe myrtle in it. It also has a redbud tree that came from the fields of her husband’s cousin in the North Carolina mountains.
“We have everybody in our yard,” Norris said.
Another neighbor gave her a lacey leaf maple.
Norris has a variety of other plants, including Sweet William, winter honeysuckle, Ox Alice, all sorts of hostas, hydrangeas, azaleas, tiger lilies and purple cone flowers. And she has an angel trumpet flower that opens up like a trumpet when it blooms. The hummingbirds love it.
“I like to have a lot of color in my garden,” she said. “I like statement plants.”
Norris said weeding her garden is therapy for her.
“When you’re weeding, you’re ripping out things that are negative and making room for positive things,” she said. “It’s very therapeutic because everybody has issues. That’s just life.
“All I have to do is get my shovel, my trowel and my knee pad and go out in the garden and after a while, I hear the birds singing and smell the flowers and am like, ‘Oh yeah, this is what life is all about.’ ”