Every place we lived when I was a kid displayed my mother’s love of gardening. When we lived with my grandparents, she built a long and narrow flower garden behind the clothesline. Its florescence could be seen through every window on that side of the house. And when she and my grandmother hung laundry, the warm breeze was laden with the scent of roses and honeysuckle. Wherever we lived she grew irises, lilies, tomatoes, fruit trees and anything that caught her interest in the catalogs she poured through in winter.
When weather permitted my mother was outdoors in one of her gardens, often with a dog by her side. As a kid, I paid little attention to either. Being outside for me meant playing with friends and riding my bike through the neighborhood. Years later, I realized how many of my memories included those plants.
I measured seasons by the pomegranate tree outside my bedroom window. My brothers and I posed in front of her flowers on Easter and Mother’s Day and gardens filled the background of the Polaroids I took as a teenager. By the time I left home, all I wanted was a garden like hers.
Decades later, I am still trying. Luckily my husband shares my mother’s passion. In early spring, I see dead grass and hardened, bare soil. Mike sees the return of each plant in every sprout of green and imagines things he might add in a vacancy.
This year our peonies towered over soil where forty days before there were no signs of life. The calendar claimed spring, but the weather was flighty. In a single week we turned the thermostat from winter to summer and back. Twice. Flower buds, tricked by the warm soil, were cut, and brought inside before hailstorms. Immediately I remembered Mom’s first piece of advice:
1, There are no guarantees in gardening.
Nature does not play by hard and fast rules. Typically, the peonies poke through the ground (early March) at the first hint of warmer soil; the clematis follow and in a few short weeks everything else. This year seemed different. Still, in the aftermath of a spring with many false starts, the plants did what they always do. They make it or they don’t.
All the peonies bloomed, though many looked less vivid than the year before. The clematis came through a little less showy and the elderberry bloomed on tired and knotty branches.
This spring has been a collaboration of dreams and diligence. Last week, the spring temperature reached 90. I watched Mike carry the water hose past my window three times to soak the newly planted wax myrtles. Plant, water, and wait is his gardening motto.
2. Planting anything is about hope.
My mom once had a plaque in her garden inscribed “To Plant a Garden is to Believe in Tomorrow.” Face it, being outside is what spring is about. We take our cues from nature and the added hours of daylight savings time. We wake in the deep grey of morning to the sound of baby birds and the occasional thunderstorm. And end our days when the mosquitos dictate it’s time to go in.
Gardeners get giddy at the prospect of seeds or tiny plants engendering food or stunning blooms. Proof can be seen any weekend at Home Depot. Orange baskets are overflowing with flowers and vegetables. Customers beam with anticipation. But the journey between conception to harvest is long and the obstacles begin at planting time.
I loosely use Farmers Almanac for suggestions on when to plant. But even the best planting days are subject to heat, drought, insects, and disease. (And in Texas the most difficult soil to break through). Seventy-five days can seem like an eternity to wait for an Early Girl tomato or an Ichiban eggplant.
But gardeners dare to hope and water. And water. We chase away predators and pests. With every cup of soil I remove with my hand trowel I say a prayer for the fledgling I am putting in the soil. That it might thrive and bring smiles and things to eat. And with every cup of soil crawling with worms, I say thanks.
3. It’s only a weed if you don’t want it.
My mother liked dandelions and clovers. She loved their leaves, their blooms and the insects who visited them. She defended them as wildflowers. My father saw them as weeds and harbors of bees and mowed them over once a week.
Merriam Webster defines a weed as: a plant that is not valued where it is growing; of vigorous growth or tends to choke out more desirable plants. My dad preferred that definition. But years later, he acquiesced and simply mowed around them when they were at their showiest.
We have a cordial system here. When something green comes up that I don’t recognize, I put a stick next to it. When Mike asks me about the stick, I ask him if he knows what it is. Regardless of his answer, if I like it I keep it. Then, I put a circle of sticks around it to let him know I’m serious. If Mike sees a sprout he can’t identify, he pulls it up before I can see it.
The beauty of any garden is in the eye of the beholder. That’s why we take so many pictures of them. We use them for reference, identification, bragging rights and to dominate social media in the spring. Thanks to Home Depot I also know the most valuable picture of the season for me will be my orange cart overflowing with colorful flowers and thriving vegetables. Most of them will be dead by summer’s end.
What gardening tips guide you? Please share them in the comments.
Glenda Ferguson says
Karen, I love this story about your mom. It reminded me of my mom’s green thumb that did not get passed on to me. My mom wore a t-shirt: Gardeners know all the best dirt.
Keep writing about your personal experiences. I love reading them.
Thanks, Glenda. It’s all about the trying, right? I’m going to be on the look out for that t-shirt!
Tracy Crump says
I love peonies but have never grown them. Our azaleas took a hard hit this year due to ice storms and late freezes, but they seem to be trying to recover. However, I think our poor gardenia is gone. Thank you for the lovely story!
Thanks so much, Tracy. I love azaleas! They are a struggle to keep here, too. But that two weeks or so that they are in full bloom makes it seem worthwhile. 🙂
Connie Tarver says
Loved reading this article! Me and James are like you and Mike. I am more like Mike and James is like you. but I enjoy the mystery of whether a plant is going to take off or just die. My mother would be amazed at my interest in growing things because I was so bad at it while she was alive!
Thanks, Connie. I think my mother would be surprised by me, too. (not all of it good 🙂 )