Soon after my lovely niece, Alyson McGee and her fiance, Ryan Gembala announced their engagement, my little sister, Patti Smith, and I almost immediately started making plans to have her Bridesmaid’s Luncheon in Athens, Georgia.  My sister, Claire, also entrusted us to create arrangements for the reception as well.   Alyson had grown up visiting my parent’s home in Pontotoc, Mississippi, and had delighted in the gorgeous bouquets of her Mimi’s roses from the time she was a tiny girl. From lovingly arranged miniature roses at her special tea parties to graceful arrangements of roses and peonies when Alyson was in a dance recital or had a graduation as a young woman, my Mother’s flowers were indeed cherished garden gifts.  I will always remember Alyson commenting on several occasions that she hoped Mimi could help her plan the wedding of her dreams.  Mother passed away in January of 2010, and this request was not possible.  However, Patti and I wanted to use as many roses, greenery and other flowers from our parents’ yard in Mississippi as we possibly could.  To ensure that the roses would be available for the May ceremony, Patti started grooming the roses in the winter months.  She traveled from her home in Memphis on several occasions to ensure that the roses were pruned, fertilized, and sprayed properly.  To our joy, the roses were beautiful along with hydrangeas, Solomon’s Seal, magnolia, Queen Anne’s Lace, Larkspur and other perennials. We cut and transported them to the wedding in Athens.  Although my Mother couldn’t be involved in the planning process, she left her garden gifts that would make a memorable wedding for Alyson.

A picture from Christmas, 2008.  My Mother is surrounded by Alyson on her left, and my sister Claire her right. I am on the top left and my sister, Patti, is to my right.


Alyson, pictured below at one of  Meme’s celebrated tea parties, examines a basket of garden roses.

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The Hoyt House Restaurant at the historical Foundry Inn in Athens, Georgia was the setting of the bridesmaid’s luncheon. Garden roses, hydrangea, and larkspur from my Mother’s garden were used in all of the arrangements.

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The silver vintage vases were all from my Mother’s collection.

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A monogrammed linen hand towel with the bride’s new monogram and  satin ribbon secured the flower bouquet that embellished the honoree’s chair.

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My sister, Patti, and I arranged  magnolia blooms and Queen Anne’s Lace in tall vases for the wedding reception at The Georgia Club. My Mother was especially fond of this combination of Southern blooms.  ( The matching “uniforms” were coincidental!)

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Pictured below are two pictures from the sanctuary of First United Methodist Church in Athens, Georgia.  The arrangements of white hydrangea, hosta, white roses,  and Belles of Ireland were inspired by my Mother.  Smilax smallii or Jackson vine as we call it in the South, a favorite of my Mother’s, was used on the pews and on the entryway into the church.


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Alyson so beautifully shared her reflections of Meme:

I can remember Mimi making comments about my wedding when I was very little.  I’m sure most of this stemmed from my curiosity and awe of my mother’s wedding portrait.  I can remember standing in the hallway at Mimi and Patpat’s looking at my parents’ wedding pictures and asking many questions- most importantly, why didn’t you wait until I was born to get married so that I could be the flower girl?  I remember her taking such understated pride in every detail– the roses, the music, everything– when explaining the pictures to me.  Also when I was little she would always let me pick a few roses from the garden to put in whichever room I was staying for the visit.  She would always point out bluebirds and bird nests, sometimes picking me up to peer into the bird houses and check for bluebird eggs.  

 I always assumed that Mimi would be instrumental in planning my wedding.  I pictured her loading coolers of roses into the car before she and Patpat drove to Georgia like they did for every ballet performance growing up.  Mama told her in the hospital a few weeks before she died that Ryan was going to propose, which made her smile.  The only sad moment of the day we got engaged was realizing I was not going to be able to talk to her about the proposal.  

 I was heavily dependent on Mama during the wedding planning process, which was very special for both of us.  Every detail we talked about Mimi, especially as we discussed incorporating her roses, which my bridesmaids and I carried.  I felt very close to Mimi on my wedding day even though, as Patpat says, “She would have loved being a part of helping plan.”

 When Ryan and I were taking pictures outside in the sunset two bluebirds flew overhead, stopped in the grass near us and watched inquisitively as we took pictures.  We realized there was a nest in the corner of an awning where we were celebrating.  I will never forget how blessed I felt to have had Mimi as a grandmother while I was holding her roses in my bouquet and peering up at bluebirds in their nest.  Her role in the planning of our wedding was very clear to all who knew her, but that special moment felt divinely orchestrated just for me.  




  1. What a priceless gift that you and your sister gave to her. Your mama’s flowers wouldn’t have done a bit of good for her wedding if they were still left on the vines in Mississippi.

  2. What a sweet and lovely blog! Mimi’s spirit lives on and on, that’s for sure! So glad you and Patti were able to make it all come true for Alyson. Happy 2nd anniversary to them, and happy birthday to you!

  3. Mary Lise, I can never tell you how grateful and thrilled Alyson and I were with the lovely bridesmaids’ luncheon and the gorgeous reception flowers, all done with such love and grace! Those are some of the most special memories I have of that wonderful time.

    • We loved every minute, and what memories we’ll have for a lifetime! We were just so happy that Alyson and Ryan were pleased with the results. What wonderful flowers we had to work with! I think Mother would have been pleased!

  4. What a legacy your mom left you, your sisters, and their families. This was absolutely beautiful and inspiring! Thank you for sharing.

  5. You are such a gifted writer and photographer, Mary Lise. What a beautiful title to this blog, “Wedding Gifts From Mimi’s Garden”! You and your sisters and Alyson truly did honor your dear Mom on this special day. How I wish I could have met your Mom and seen her beautiful roses and other flowers! Her children were truly blessed through her love and gifts. Thank you for sharing this lovely read and reflections on your birthday. It’s a privilege to get to share in your life through your “Beautiful Gardener” blog. Happy Birthday, dear Mary Lise!

    • Thanks, Diane! You are so encouraging and I always appreciate the kind comments you make. I wish you could have known my Mother, too. Her gifts continue to live on. I had a great birthday, and am so blessed to have friends like you in my life! Hope to see you soon.

  6. Although she wasn’t there in body, I can tell from all the pictures of the beautiful flowers, that your Mimi was definitely there in spirit. You Mother and your aunts are such true Southern Ladies and they were mentored, by the best. Maxine was loved and adored by all of us.

  7. What a wonderful legacy your mother left, and a wonderful gift of your talents from you and your sister for your niece! I especially liked the magnolia blossoms and Queen Ann’s lace in the vases — your mother and I agree on that — they’re just beautiful! Queen Ann’s lace grows wild in this part of the country, and I love it, although I’ve always had trouble with it shedding on the table. Maybe it’s one of those flowers that sheds after more than a day on the table, idk, but a lovely, lacy addition to any arrangement. Definitely a beautiful luncheon and wedding, and a beautiful post, Mary!

    • Thanks, Becky, for the kind comments. My Mother truly left my sisters and me so many gifts. She was so giving and loving and brought joy to everyone. Like you, she adored the combination of Queen Anne’s lace and magnolia..

  8. Beautiful legacy for your niece and for all of you! Enjoyed sharing the happy occasion! I grew up enjoying all the beautiful flowers that your mother provided for the church sanctuary. She definitely had a gift and a ministry.

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