Shirley Ramsour, age 90, was born and raised in Joplin. Though her mother, Rose, died from pneumonia when she was seven years old, Shirley lived a very privileged life. Her father was an architect and they lived in a grand house that looked like a castle on the outside.
Before Shirley’s mother passed away, she was an avid gardener and had a large garden. When Rose was in the garden, Shirley was always there to help. It might have been little tasks such as pulling weeds or counting seeds, but she remembers her mother giving her great amounts of praise for the help.
Before she got sick, Rose did all the landscaping for the house. Shirley and her sister Margot would be amazed by the fact that their mother could plant a whole garden in a day’s time. Shirley said her mother taught her that she could not count on every single seed sprouting, and that only three out of four seeds would grow.
Shirley’s family had a nanny that lived with them. She cleaned the house, cooked the food, and took care of the children when their mother was out. The nanny insisted she would help Rose in the garden, but Rose simply refused, though she allowed Shirley to help.
Sometimes, when Rose cut fresh flowers from the garden, she would let Shirley and Margot have a few. The sisters would go to the end of the street, set up a booth, and try to sell the flowers to the residents of the neighborhood.
The sisters would go to the market with Rose at the beginning of spring and help her pick out seeds and plants for that year’s gardens. Shirley and Margot would run up and down the aisles looking at all sorts of seeds. They would pick out many packets just because of the color and picture of the flower on the front. A package of sunflower seeds cost five cents in 1920.
“My favorite memory of my mother was of a spring day when I was five years old. I woke up to sunshine streaming through my window, and I went to the window and saw that all of the flowers in the garden had bloomed. There were gorgeous petunias, beautiful tulips, and blushing rose bushes. The grass had been freshly cut and it glimmered with morning dew. I remember intently watching my mother’s face. She turned around in a few circles, admiring her work. Then, she had the biggest smile on her face. It was very enlightening to see how proud my mother was. Gardening meant a lot to her because back in her time women were not allowed to do much, and gardening was an escape for my mother.”
After Rose died, Shirley and her sister no longer gardened. Their father hired a gardener to take Rose’s place. It made Shirley sad to see other people work in her mother’s gardens, but she and her sister both knew that they could not make the gardens as beautiful as their mother had made them.
Shirley married Bart Ramsour in 1947. As soon as they got settled in their home, Shirley decided she wanted to start a garden. “I thought I had forgotten all that my mother had taught me. Once I started buying the seeds and digging up the earth, I knew that the knowledge had not left me, it had just been tucked in the back of my mind.”
Shirley says gardening is a great escape. It is hard work, but the end result brings joy and beautiful sights to set one’s eyes upon. Some of the traditions of gardening have changed but one thing remains the same: gardens can be the window to a beautiful soul.
Ramsour, Shirley. Personal Interview. 22 Nov, 2012.