Just remember, in the winter, far beneath the bitter snows, lies a seed that with the sun’s love, in the spring, becomes the rose. —Bette Midler
I was interviewing my colleague Rose for a newsletter story about her newly found passion for gardening. It was a joy to listen to the lilt in her voice as she described learning about the variety of flowers and shrubs available, how much sunlight and water they need to thrive. We agree that our gardens are the perfect spot to decompress from our current climate. A beautiful alternative to news that rocks our souls daily.
“The garden is an oasis that calms the chaos,” I reply to her description of happiness her new garden brings.
This got me thinking about my gardens. How they are a labor of love that took many years to cultivate. Trial and error when I misjudged the light and soil conditions. How some of the perennials took in spite of my ignorance. Others withered away. Roses present a particular challenge to me. I’ve killed my fair share of hybrid tea roses. You must carefully tend them, fertilizing and cutting back, ensuring not too much water lest the leaves turn yellow and eventually fall, leaving a long thorny stem and anemic, stilted blooms. I finally learned roses I grow best are the knockout variety—they like the south and north corners of the front of my house. These showy grand dames require less tending, bringing heady fragrance and energy in late spring. I recently planted a new deep pink one in the hole vacated by last year’s failed rhubarb experiment. So far, she’s happy.
Gardens require pruning, feeding and weeding. Funny thing about weeds, some appear with handsome flowers so are welcome among the more regal lilies, brown eyed Susan’s and cone flowers. Some have to go, because they zap too much energy of the floribunda. It’s a delicate balance.
There are seasons to gardens. That’s a well know fact. Plant too early and the frost will destroy your tender plants. Skip fertilizing and mulching, and you’ll get flowers that struggle to bloom. Oh, they will survive the first year. Each year thereafter, they are smaller and less healthy, until they finally give up the ghost. If you respect their simple needs for light, food and water, however, they plant their roots deep, giving back with their powerful charm. Then come fall, its time to put them to bed for a long sleep while the roots and bulbs go dormant. What a blessing of renewal spring brings when they awake and send up tender shoots. The cycle resumes.
It’s also a delight to discover surprises—stray seeds brought as gifts from the birds and squirrels that nestle in a small unclaimed patch of earth. In my Syracuse garden one year, giant sunflowers appeared, growing six feet high with enormous mop heads that blossomed fully. After the flowers faded, they gave back to their winged friends as small wrens perched on the bent necks plucking the ripe seeds. Working together, they made magic real.
I taught my boys well about the care and feeding of a garden in their teen years in Syracuse. I had them water the extensive beds most summer early evenings and mornings. There was often griping and protestations. But here’s my little secret they didn’t know then. It was deliberate because one cannot help but ruminate on life with optimism when faced with such beauty while hands are occupied carefully watering the stems, not the blooms. This insistence flummoxed them because it would have made the chore pass quickly. Enforced solitude is good for the soul.
Seems the lessons took because now they both call me sharing their delights as their buds bloom. My sons have become gardeners. The country mouse and the city mouse.
Although technically the Adams’ home isn’t really in the country, but a charming Tudor in a smallish Michigan city. They are reclaiming their yard plant-by-plant. T and I helped them overhaul the bones of their yard when we visited last September. Now they are digging and shaping, planting bulbs, shrubs and perennials while filling their space with Adam’s considerable collection of Pier 1 gewgaws and lanterns.
Alex lives in Baltimore City with his beloved Will in a historic row home and they are planting in window boxes, pots on the deck and perennials in the small patch of soil beyond the boards. Their backyard is their haven filled with bird song, greenery and new plants. Alex decorates with his unique blend of bones, ephemera and sparkle. He teaches Zoom yoga from the deck, sharing his little slice of heaven with his students.
My sons have learned how calming it is to dig, plant and deadhead. It’s hard to stay angry or sad when you work amidst such miracles you’ve nurtured. When you’re really vexed, there’s nothing like a good weed pulling spell to dissipate the mood. If ever there was such a time we need a break from the trials in our world, it surely is now.
This is what we know. Gardens offer solace and pleasure, thoughtful pause. Like Rose says, “They make me happy.” Indeed. Time to go give the girls a drink and see who’s come out to shine beauty, peace and joy in the neighborhood today.