Zinnias evoke memories a long way from home…

I have a newspaper clipping from the Los Angeles Times 1999… And the title says  “Zinnias Evoke Memories of a first love” 

In my case, this article evoked memories from a long time ago, and a long way from home.

On a cool Californian day in 1999  we were visiting Universal Studios in Los Angeles. While we stopped off for coffee I noticed the Garden section of the LA Times … and Paul kindly suggested I sit down and read it while they tried another ride.   ( sounded like heaven to me).

Rebecca (Bec) and Jessica (Jess) with Apollo 13 astronauts …and Paul looking very cool in front of Tom Hanks

I wanted to read about Zinnias … yes in the middle of Universal Studios .. because they were one of my mother’s favourite flowers and she grew them in the front garden of our house in Zambia ( Central Africa) when I was growing up.

In truth I don’t know whether they were her favourites because she grew lots of flowers and always successfully.

Robert Smaus, the Times Garden Editor had written, “my first garden was full of zinnias in wild Crayola colours”

…and that is just how I remember them.

In our Zambian garden they provided a lot of colour in a climate that was hot and dry.

At the time of reading that article in Los Angeles my family had long since left Africa and had emigrated to Australia.

My parents  were living in the pretty coastal town of Port Macquarie.


I was transported from my coffee table in the winter sunshine at Universal Studios in LA across Australia and back to Africa…….How strong the memories of flowers and plants are!

My mother introduced me to many plants and flowers, and when my parents had a home and garden of their own in Port Macquarie I was constantly trying to transplant flowers and shrubs from Mum’s garden in (warm temperate) Port Macquarie  to ours in (cold temperate ) Canberra.

Almost all flowers turned up their toes when they got to Canberra’s freezing/hot dry climate.

I could almost hear them saying

”what have you done to me…why didn’t you leave me alone in lovely temperate Port Macquarie!”‘

Only a few survived, and they are such a welcome part of spring and summer in our garden.

Orange Sparaxis

After a full and eventful life, my mother died, not too long after our holiday to the US.

This lovely Dutch Iris (transported from Mum’s garden) was flowering the night she died..


The Dutch Irises have spread and flowered around our garden every November since then…..a warm reminder of our shared love of flowers and gardening.

Sweet peas were a big favourite for her and for me, (and they grew just as well for me as for her……Yes!) and the smell is another memory trigger……but who could not love a sweet pea?


Do you have a flower or shrub or a smell  that takes you back to a memory?

Copyright: Geraldine Mackey All Rights Reserved




16 Replies to “Zinnias evoke memories a long way from home…”

  1. I have a poor memory but, funnily enough, although I only lived in Australia for 3 years many years ago, the sight and smell of a gum tree is enough to recall it vividly to mind. I had a house in Greece for 9 years and gum trees grew all along the local beach, i loved going there for that reason.

    1. Yes. there is something about the smell of a gum tree, especially in mid-summer. Although I haven’t been to Greece I imagine the heat and landscape would give you the same memories…

  2. You certainly hit a hot button here. 🙂 A very good friend, John, planted a yard full of zinnias every year. After he passed, I wanted to grow them so I could have a visual reminder. But, when I plant them the bugs descend, and let’s just say, the zinnias and everyone else in the neighborhood are demolished. But, when I see these photos, I think John. 🙂 My grandmother had perennial sweet peas growing along the fence of the chicken coop – the smell was intoxicating and I remember picking them each year. I don’t have good luck with those either, but she also had phlox in many colors, and I have a lot of phlox that I enjoy every summer. I could keep going, but I’ll give you a break. 🙂

    1. I could go on about flowers and smells of flowers, they remind me of so many people! Everyone loves sweet peas I think, but phlox is very pretty too.

  3. What an interesting family history you have. The plant Lunaria annua , known as Honesty or Silver Dollar Plant, reminds me of my mother. She loved to cut the dried flowers and take them inside to put in vases.

    1. Gardeners always seem to have someone in the family who has been interested in plants and flowers in some way. We have Honesty in our garden too and I put it with flowers in vases in late summer.

  4. I’m withJason, you certainly do have a fascinating family history! I enjoted this poat and hearing about your mother. Good to know you can get a few to grow. Lavender always seems to remind me of my childhood and bindweed, I used to love it despite it being a weed, I think it was the first thing I ever drew properly.xxx

    1. Our family have crossed a few continents…that is for sure. I don’t know bindweed (maybe just the name)but I’ve always been good at growing weeds!

  5. Plants create wonderful connections with people and memories. My mother didn’t do much gardening when I was growing up–she tended toward ground covers and bark mulch. She grew roses (which were lovely for a day or two until they were inundated by Japanese beetles) and zinnias. I’m not sure if it says something about my relationship with my mother, but I have never liked zinnias. They always seemed like stiff little prigs to me. The type of flowers that would run tattling to an adult–“look how good and neat I am–peony over there is dropping her messy petals all over the place.” I did try to grow some zinnias this year as a dearth-filler for my bees, but they haven’t exactly been thriving. Perhaps they can sense my latent hostility. When I was growing up, we had a huge korean spicebush (carleesi viburnum) planted by the front door, with a fragrance that was the essence of spring to me. It have planted them in every place we have lived where they will survive. A trail of carleesi’s that new owners will not recognize as a happiness from my childhood.

    1. I think the scent of plants evoke just as strong memories for most people. Eucalyptus leaves smell of an Australian summer for me. Maybe you are best avoiding zinnias! I’ll look out for the Korean spice bush .. Sounds lovely!

  6. My London-born mother tried to grow bluebells. I suspect ours are Spanish rather than English. I carefully nurtured her pot of bulbs, then found masses in this garden.
    Not many flowers. Perhaps more water needed?
    Apparently English bluebell woods smell delectable.

  7. The plants that I have been given by friends or have some memories of the past are the most special plants that I have in my garden. My parent’s garden was full of roses and bedding plants which obviously was the favourite design in those days. My garden does look very different but it would be incomplete without some roses. Sarah x

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