Mary T. Colbert; Gardener Created the 'Living Wreath'

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Mary T. "Teddy" Colbert, who gained attention for her numerous articles on gardening and for creating and marketing her copyrighted "Living Wreath," has died. She was 74.

Colbert died on Tuesday at her home in Somis in Ventura County, said her son, Tom Colbert.

A former teacher, Colbert began her journalism career only after her seven children were grown. She contributed articles to The Times for nearly 20 years and had written for such publications as Better Homes and Gardens, Horticulture magazine and Sunset. Her most recent article appears in the current issue of Woman's Day magazine.

"There is a swing on my porch where I sit and marvel at the story my garden tells," she began a typically lyrical 1986 article for The Times about her miniature roses. "Sprays of flowers remind me of old love letters: Their gentle colors and familiar perfumes evoke past excitement and hold sweet secrets. The very small roses on my left are ancestors of the modern miniatures on my right. Their development parallels the history of roses, leading from century to century, continent to continent."

Colbert also delighted readers with essays on such topics as pruning, maintaining old camellia plants, growing vegetables and the beneficial effects of gardening on people with brain injuries and other physical handicaps.

But Colbert unquestionably gained her greatest national following in 1976 when she developed her unique "living wreath" made of wire, sphagnum moss, soil and various live plants that could keep on growing until plucked.

"Many gardeners have limited gardening space, but they want something satisfying and interesting and the living wreath gives them that," she said in an interview last year. "It's essentially a miniature garden."

Colbert wrote a book about her invention, titled "The Living Wreath," in 1996. It won the national Art of Garden Communication Award for the most inspiring garden book of the year. She demonstrated how to make and maintain the wreaths on television with Martha Stewart and Willard Scott, among others.

"The Wreath Lady," as she came to be known, also taught classes in making the wreaths, gave talks at garden shows and sold wreath starter kits from her mail-order company, Teddy Colbert's Garden in Somis.

Practicing what she preached, Colbert kept several living wreaths around her house and garden, including one made of succulents more than 16 years old. She kept herb wreaths in her kitchen to assist her in cooking, put lettuce wreaths on buffet tables as edible centerpieces and placed wreaths on tables to dress up candleholders.

Colbert is survived by her husband of 46 years, Ed, seven children and 10 grandchildren.

Mass will be celebrated at 11:30 a.m. Saturday at Padre Serra Church in Camarillo.

The family has asked that memorial contributions be sent to Padre Serra Parish, 5205 Upland Road, Camarillo, CA 93012, to fund a garden in her honor.

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