By Janet Abbott Fast
In the back yard there are more rows of iris—purple shades from light to deep purple—almost black—shades of yellow, salmon, apricot, lavender, with many of the colors mixed with white. Many of the flowers have frilly edges. Walking along the rows the heavenly fragrance of the flowers assails your nostrils. At the end of the rows one might find egg shells, banana peels, coffee grounds which Frank feeds the local buzzard population. In the field adjacent to the house a local farmer has planted wheat which provides a vivid green contrast to the iris.
Eleanor and Frank were married in 1949 and have lived in this home for about four decades. Eleanor is a Farnham native, and Frank was born in Rappahannock County. His mother died in childbirth and his father was blind, so he and his siblings were brought up in the Methodist orphanage in Richmond. That is where Frank first began to love the feel of dirt between his fingers. In the summers the children were taken in by local families and later Frank came to Westmoreland County to help on a farm. Frank says that the orphanage had a large garden and dairy cattle in the twenties and thirties. We called the man in charge “Daddy Mac” he recalls fondly and with a smile. He named his first son Turner after the man whose family shared their home with him each summer. Frank joined the Navy in 1941 and after the war he came back to work at Westmoreland State Park .
Eleanor came to the park one day for a church picnic and that’s when they first met. “I’m Baptist, and converted him,” she laughs. Her father worked as a carpenter and had the General Store in Farnham. After graduating from Mary Washington College she began teaching in Richmond, but when her father became ill she returned home to Farnham. After they were married Frank and Eleanor lived with her mother and she taught school in Lively and in Farnham. When the children began to arrive she stayed home with the babies, but as they began to grow, her mother helped out and she worked part time at the Farnham post office. She later retired as postmaster.
There are five children, three boys and two girls, and three grandchildren. One son, Paul, lives in Farnham, and is a rural mail carrier. The oldest son, Turner, who is in the insurance business, stops by as he travels through the area. Robert, who is in sales for a trucking company, will soon be moving to Louisiana. He and his wife have a daughter and one on the way. Elaine has two daughters, lives in Richmond, and has inherited her daddy’s fondness for gardening. Sarah, who also lives in Richmond, has an antique shop, aptly named The Garden Room. On a Sunday afternoon it’s not unusual to see half a dozen extra cars parked in the yard, when the family stops by for a visit. Eleanor says there may be anywhere from six to eighteen people for dinner, all of which she cooks herself. Much of the food comes from the garden, fresh in summer and canned in the winters. “I love shelling butterbeans. That’s rest,” Eleanor says.
It’s not clear if vegetable gardening or the iris is first in Frank’s heart as he clearly is passionate about his flowers. It started several decades back when he began to order hybrid iris “from a catalog in the state of Oregon. We ordered more each year.” Soon the flowers multiplied and he had more than he knew what to do with. Folks stop by to admire the flowers so Frank will sell them bit by bit. It’s important to stop by when they’re in bloom so you can chose your favorite colors, and Frank will dig the plant for you. “My favorite is the deep purple,” Frank says. Today there are 13 rows of iris and about 40 different varieties.
The vegetable gardens include a strawberry patch, asparagus, English peas, lima beans, butterbeans (which are smaller than limas) curly kale, sweet potatoes, Irish potatoes, peanuts, tomatoes, corn, cantaloupe and watermelon. Of course there are more flower beds, but the iris dominates the space for flowers. Both Frank, who has had three knee replacements, and Eleanor share the weeding duties.
Before retiring Frank was the building superintendent for Milton Hammond, Inc, in Tappahannock. After he retired Mr. Hale—who converted the old Farnham school into a retirement facility, now called Farnham Manor—called on Frank to help him build the villas, for seniors who live independently. He was supposed to supervise, but one day he was up on a roof working. “Mrs. Hale came over and told me I shouldn’t be on the roof, and she called Eleanor,” he laughs
Like many folks living in Virginia, Frank does not like moles or voles and he has rigged a trap to catch them. Moles eat grubs and push the dirt up, Frank advises. Then the voles come along in the same place and gobble the plants, pulling them downward. Once caught they are nailed on the back of an outbuilding, where their tiny skulls in neat rows are a reminder of the havoc they can wreak in a garden.
Before Hurricane Isabel there were two huge pecan trees in the yard, and
when the wind took one, it knocked down the other, both away from the house.
The nearby walnut tree which has swings for the grandchildren to play was
spared. In the back of the property are rows of pecan trees, but no harvests
Anyone who has Frank’s iris in the yard have a wonderful reminder of the beauty and friendliness shared in this land of gentle living.
© 2005 Janet Abbott
Fast All Rights Reserved
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