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Gardener keeps up Peru spot known as Cole Porter inspiration

June 6, 2018

PERU, Ind. (AP) — Violets, marigolds, eglantines, columbines, hollyhocks and phlox. Broadway composer Cole Porter mentioned all of them in his 1919 song called “Old Fashioned Garden.”

And for decades, Susan Jordan has been growing those same flowers at the same farm in rural Peru that many believe inspired the song that became Porter’s first commercially successful composition.

The piece ended up making him a ton of money - more than $100,000 in royalties - and helped launch a career that established him as one of America’s greatest songwriters.

Jordan and her husband have lived at the farm since 1973, when they bought the property and house that belonged to Porter’s step-grandmother from the early 1900s until her death in the 1940s.

At the time the Porter family bought the land at 2455 S. Frances Slocum Trail, the property contained only a small bungalow surrounded by lush gardens. The bungalow was eventually renovated and added onto to make a house.

Jordan and others are sure Porter visited the spot. After all, Porter was born and raised in Peru, and his grandfather ended up building a house for his mother, Kate, near the property.

She said there’s no hard evidence that the song was inspired by his step-grandma’s garden, but the lyrics make it difficult to deny.

Today, Jordan, a 74-year-old native of Bloomington, has embraced her house’s likely role in inspiring a young Cole Porter.

Pull into the driveway, and there’s still a white, arched gateway just like the one that was there in the early 1900s. A sign hanging there identifies the place as the “Old Fashioned Garden.”

That garden is located around the back of the house and explodes with color this time of year. There are pink and red roses and yellow daffodils. Green vines climb up a laced arch.

And, of course, there are all the flowers mentioned in Porter’s song.

On Monday, the blue phloxes were just starting to bloom, while the columbine buds had already come and gone. But the marigolds were a vibrant orange-and-yellow, and the pink hollyhocks hung from their stems like the bells of a trumpet.

Jordan said the hardest flowers from the song to grow are eglantines, which bloom on a bush littered with thorns and spikes. The plant is difficult to find today.

“All the farmers hated these and tried to kill them, because the cattle wouldn’t eat them,” she said. “The plants would just grow like crazy. I almost have to take a chainsaw to chop back the bush.”

But, she said, the small, delicate flowers are beautiful and give off a fragrant apple-blossom smell all season long.

Jordan said she’s always loved gardening. The year they moved to the property, one of the first things she did was put in a garden in the back yard.

“I wanted to grow some flowers so I’d have something to look out and see from my kitchen window,” she said.

At the time, Jordan was just interested in growing what she liked. But once she started investigating the history of the property and Porter’s link to it, she realized her garden could be a living tribute to that history.

“In the beginning, I was more interested in just growing flowers,” she said. “But it evolved as I learned more about Cole. As I started reading about the history of the song, I thought, ‘OK, those are all plants that I would enjoy growing.’”

She learned a lot of that history from her neighbors, who happened to be relatives of the Porter family. In fact, today, two houses on the same road as Jordan’s garden are occupied by some of the closest relatives of the family.

Now, not only does Jordan grow the flowers mentioned in “Old Fashioned Gardens.” She also has a folder full of historical documents and photos of the house and the song, including an old piece of sheet music of the composition.

And after living at the house and tending her garden for 45 years, the connection of her property to Porter has become more important to her than ever, Jordan said.

“It’s special,” she said. “The more you learn about Cole Porter and the more you learn about his lyrics, you realize he’s kind of genius. His songwriting ability is amazing.”

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Source: Kokomo Tribune

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Information from: Kokomo Tribune, http://www.ktonline.com

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