This past Thursday my grandmother, Patricia Swerda passed away at the age of 97. Although Alzheimer’s wore away her talents, memories and personality during her last years, she was an amazing artist of the natural world.
She grew up in Texas and became a young army wife just before the Second World War pulled my grandfather into North Africa. When the war ended, she went to him in Vienna, and after postings in Rhode Island, England, California, and Japan, he retired from the army and they settled down in Seattle.
It was during her time on Kyushu that she discovered the art of ikebana, or Japanese flower arranging. She learned, became a sensei, and eventually was the first western woman to become a grand master of the art. Her books on the subject are still available on Amazon.com. She was a lover of beauty in the natural world, but also believed that such beauty could be improved through the thoughtful engagement of the eyes, hands, and heart.
I recall vividly a visit to their home in Redmond, Washington when I was a teenager, astonished by the gardens and the cedar house she had built on a few lush acres, weaving the sights, sounds, textures, and scents of earth, plant, water, wood, metal, and paper into a kind of horticultural song.
Upon the rampant development of Seattle suburbs, unfortunately, she was forced to sell, and the property became ‘Safeguard Self Storage’. She moved, built a new, smaller garden, and kept teaching.
So it seemed suitable today to visit some gardens in Perugia. I chose two adjacent gardens, both next to the Basilica San Pietro, where we had gone to a concert some weeks back: The Giardini del Frontone, and the Orto Medievale of the Agronomy School of the Università degli Studi di Perugia. The radar looked grim, the clouds piled up, and I prepared for the kind of rain Patricia had often worked in around the Pacific rim. But it held off, and I was able to make a pilgrimage in her honor and memory. Here is an annotated photographic journey.
Avia, requiescas in pace.