In our first home, I planted sunflowers, marigolds, radishes, and sweet peas, and spent long days in the dirt, listening to the children play in the back yard. I weathered black flies, mosquitos, and dirty fingernails and returned to the house better after my time working in the dirt. Over the years, I’ve planted herb gardens, lettuce, and fresh veggies just steps from my kitchen. I’ve also tended flower beds with lush plantings of perennials and hardy shrubs. There is something about the process of bending low, smelling the earth, and touching it with my hands that is both soothing and satisfying. Every spring, I decide again to be a gardener.
As I child, I spent summers in my Grandma Zehrung’s garden. She grew gladiolas that towered over us and hydrangeas as big as my head. Her flowerbeds wrapped around her big house, there was a coy pond for splashing. Later, when they moved to the city, she coaxed flowers from the square beds around their small plot of deep green grass. It was magic.
My Grandma Derrick, could also coax beauty from brown dirt and hard work. The patio around their small house was ringed with succulents, and perennials which grew in abundance. Even when she moved into a small apartment in a retirement complex, her porch was overgrown with riotous potted plants, roses, and an occasional refugee from my mom’s house.
Some of my first memories, and favorite stories remind me that my Grandpa Malone also tended a garden when I was a child. To hear my uncle tell it, my grandpa was so excited when I learned to pick the cherry tomatoes from his vines that he would stop people in the grocery store to tell them of my amazingness. My uncle is also quick to remind me that he didn’t think it was that special… even a monkey could do it, for goodness sake!
We’ve had minimal luck with serious gardening. When we bought the house, there was already a huge (at least to me) garden plot laid out. We took on the challenge, and feasted on tomatoes, squash, and herbs by the armful. But we planted much more than we harvested and invested more time and attention than we had to spare.
Last summer, we waived the white flag at our overgrown vegetable garden and decided that we did not have the time or energy for what turned into an overwhelming project. We decided to tend to the flower beds, to plan more herbs, and return to the bigger plot of land when we had more time. So, this spring we didn’t plan to plant. It’s a good thing… because there was no time for that.
But, as I regain my strength and wander back into my yard, I am again thinking about planting. My flower beds are overgrown, the weeds are crowding in on my perennials, but the daisies are blooming and the bee balm is swaying in the breeze. My hydrangea will bloom for the first time since I planted it, this year. The peonies were spectacular in June.
Without the stress, and defeat, of the vegetable garden, I am day dreaming about planting roses to run up the porch rails. Every day, I walk by a beautiful clematis and wonder how it would look near my front steps. I work in a veritable wonderland of landscape ideas, with gardeners working daily to keep the shrubs and plantings healthy and looking their best. It’s great inspiration.
I think what I like most about our little home is that gardening here is just for us. I tend to worry about how things look, and sometimes the need to impress can overwhelm the joy of the process. In this place, no one can see what we are up to. Only friends and family make it down our long bumpy driveway. In this secret place, gardening is just about me and the dirt.
I need to get my hands dirty, to bend my knees and join in the creative process of life and beauty. The garden is as good a teacher as any I know. Here, I dance with the Creator and I am reminded that life continues. There is beauty in the struggle, in the resilient determination to find the sun again each morning. There is grace in the cycle of life and death and rebirth. There is love in the process of both living and dying.
The rain to the wind said,
‘You push and I’ll pelt.’
They so smote the garden bed
That the flowers actually knelt,
And lay lodged–though not dead.
I know how the flowers felt.
By Robert Frost