Starting Small: A Remembrance of Marj Robertson


Many of the plants in my gardens come from the garden of my friend and former employer, Marj Robertson.  She died almost five years ago now, and left a legacy of plants and memories in the gardens and hearts of Vermillionites.

She was a hard livin’ woman, and she was one hell of a cook and one hell of a gardener. She taught me never to say “thank you” for a plant from a fellow gardener.

Almost five years ago, when several friends undertook the project of clearing out her amazing gardens around the rental house she ruled over with a benevolent hand, I dug a small peony and planted it on the corner of my front yard.

Peony Flower

Now, after several years of my trying to protect it from being stepped on, peed on by passing dogs, mistakenly mowed, and other such catastrophes, it has set several lovely, rose-scented blossoms.

Peony Bush

Marj started small–coming to Vermillion to work for restauranteur and landowner, Jere Chapman, and after several years moved up to her own place.  Undaunted by a fire in her first place of business, she briefly did business from the kitchen of the Pressbox, before moving into the corner of Market and Main Streets, in the spot vacated by Janie’s Sweet Temptations, where the Market Street Cafe now resides.

She shared her refrigerator pickle recipe with me, and got me started on growing plants for their beauty and not just for food (though her vegetable gardens were amazingly productive as well).  Her sense of garden design was humorous–she managed to get hold of the old county jail cell bars, painted them purple (her favorite color), and trained clematis vines to grow on them.

Marj started small, and without unnecessary and expensive embellishments.  Sure, she had a taste for well-aged single malt Scotch (which I occasionally got a taste of, at the end of really hectic nights), but that bottle of Glenfiddich lasted a long time in her desk drawer.  She took small things, humble things, and helped them to grow.

In this spirit, I remember Marj, and try in my own way to make small things grow.

I miss you, Marj.

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5 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Matt on June 12, 2008 at 12:45 pm

    the garden aside, i still wax poetic over her fried green pickles and the time a friend and I were eating at the trailer version of Marj’s. I was so touched when she asked us if we wanted dessert and she pulled out a baked fruit crisp and offered us a piece free of charge. One of my favorite eccentrics in my memories of Seattle, as you know.

  2. Posted by Pam on June 12, 2008 at 5:58 pm

    She sounds like my kind of people.

  3. Posted by Kelsey on June 17, 2008 at 2:57 pm

    Marj is a true Vermillion legend. It’s wonderful that you’re able to keep her memory alive through her plants:)

  4. Posted by Debbie on March 13, 2009 at 2:45 pm

    Have you ever been bored and decided to “search” for people that you know? I decided to search for my mom today and found these comments. Marj was such a gardener, I didn’t get any of that talent, but I certainly respect all that she could do. It has been nearly 6 years now since my mom died, and I still miss her. I am glad that others think of her as well. By the way, if anyone has her recipe for pickles… I would love a copy! debbzie@hotmail.com

  5. Posted by flyingtomato on March 14, 2009 at 9:19 am

    Debbie–

    I do have your mom’s recipe for dill sun pickles–and I will e-mail it to you!

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