Viktoria Bruens has lived in a tiny house in Spokane for more than 30 years. She loves Spokane because the climate reminds her of where she grew up near the Alps in Germany.
Every plant and flower in her backyard garden holds a memory for her.
Bruens disdains strictly regimented gardens “where the trees and flowers are lined up like soldiers.” Her garden flourishes and overflows with colorful flowers intermingled with green herbs and tea plants.
And her story unfolds like the two healthy apple trees that meet overhead.
Bruens was born and raised in Germany during the turbulent years of World War II. She remembers as a child being evacuated from her home during the worst of the bombing. Her love of gardening came from the many hours she spent running in the fields picking flowers.
After the war, Bruens met a German-American Airman, and, against her family’s wishes, they were married. They eventually settled in the United States and had children. She and her husband parted ways when their children were older, but Bruens remained in the U.S. to be near her children and 13 grandchildren. Bruens says that in some ways she will always consider Germany home. Much of her family still resides there, and she visits as often as she is able.
Many years ago, during one of her trips to Germany, Bruens picked an apple from her father’s apple orchard, and smuggled it back in her suitcase as a keepsake from home. She planted seeds from the apple in her backyard. Although most nurseries and seed stores told her that it was almost impossible to grow apple trees from seeds alone, she proved them wrong. Today, the two trees are tall and strong. During another trip to Germany, a friend plucked a tomato from a plant in her garden and crushed it to remove the seeds. She wrapped the seeds in a paper towel and gave them to Bruens to plant in her garden at home. She did, and now she has many tomato plants that also remind her of home.
Bruens’ favorite plants are her Coleus.
In 1993, her 9-year-old granddaughter, Michelle, the daughter of Bruens’ oldest daughter, Cynthia, was hit by a car and killed. Michelle had been growing the plants for a school project. Bruens and Cynthia took parts of the Coleus and planted them in their own gardens. Unfortunately the plants died, and Bruens was deeply saddened. One day, Cynthia opened an old tin that she hadn’t opened in years. Inside lay a dried sprig of the original Coleus plant that Michelle had planted. Bruens rejoiced;
“It was a sign from Michelle,” she says.
Bruens was able to plant the seeds from Michelle’s plant and grow several plants from it. Now, she keeps these precious plants potted and indoors most of the time, and takes them out for sun occasionally. They are a constant reminder of her granddaughter.
Bruens also keeps a patch of garden just for Michelle with nine potted plants that represent her life.
Bruens spends hours every day in her garden. She waters in the morning and in the evening she weeds, prunes, replants and repairs any damage after a summer storm. She says she doesn’t mind the work, even though it has become more difficult to keep up over the years.
Her garden is her peaceful sanctuary, her therapy and her joy.
Bruens pulls a sprig of sage from the plant and inhales its pungent aroma.
“You know, everybody should have a sage bundle and hang it over their door. It brings peace, harmony and good luck,” she says. “Growing up in Germany, we believed in these things, and I still do. There’s nothing like nature. I still take hawthorn berries for high blood pressure. Doctors still prescribe it.”
Sipping tea she’s brewed from leaves she grows in her garden, Bruens speaks about each tree, herb, flower and plant as if it were a member of her family.
“Who will care for this garden when I am gone?” she wonders. “I love my house, and I love my garden.”
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