Gardens were a lifelong interest for Mabel Bell. Older people remembered that on her walks through Baddeck she would lean over fences, look, and chat about what was growing. She oversaw the development of magnificent gardens at Beinn Bhreagh. After Daisy’s marriage in 1905 to David Grandison Fairchild, the plant explorer for the United States Department of Agriculture who helped develop the Florida citrus industry, Mabel often grew unusual foreign plants. One was the edible udo, of Japanese origin, which had been thought to have potential as a cash crop. It never caught on because, unless it was cultivated and harvested with great care, it could taste like turpentine. Mabel was a generous donor of flowers and plants, and for years udo roots flourished in local gardens.
Her delight with the outdoors extended as well to her participation in experiments at Beinn Bhreagh, to boating, and to excursions. Even in the months before her death she loved to camp out. As Daisy related, “She couldn’t read our lips very well by firelight, so in the evenings she put cushions on the ground and read by the car headlights.”
“Mother always did her own thinking,” Daisy recalled in a letter to the Bell Club some years after Mabel’s death, “and it is interesting . . . to realize what a completely original individual she was. I don’t think it was just because her deafness saved her from the endless objections and criticisms that so many of us hear when we have a new idea to put over. She just knew what she thought would be fun or interesting or worthwhile to do and then tried to do it.” — From Biographer, Dorothy Harley Eber