I am a gardener. So in 1989 I bought the garden with the home I could afford in the zip code I sought to live in. It’s the first house as you enter my town but some have needled me and said it was the last. I know better.
That gray day in February, the realtor brought me to five different properties. It was the first day I was actually house hunting but when we pulled into this particular gravel driveway I knew I was home. The house didn’t really interest me all that much because I knew the garden had good bones. The giant oaks and the abundance of understory shrubs of mountain laurel spoke to me. I particularly envisioned how beautiful the spring would be when all those dogwoods came into bloom.
I was home and I knew it. So I made an offer below the asking price. As a single parent of two teenage sons, I reserved enough cash to modify the living space so they could have a room of their own. The offer was too quickly accepted which dismayed me since that meant I could have bid even lower. But, oh well, what’s done is done. I had the garden I dreamed of.
That winter I would walk in the garden pulling dead leaves from the shrubs, picking up twigs, learning, and looking. Eagerly I awaited the new growth of spring the flowering of the dogwoods. Fingers crossed there might also be some perennials bursting with color in the beds.
Well, that didn’t happen as I expected. As the weather warmed and the leaves began to unwind from their tightly bound buds, eight of the dogwoods quickly announced to me that they were dead markers of what had been. No perennials decided to surprise me with an abundance of color since there were none. And the large shrub that I viewed outside my window turned out to be a pile of dead branches with ivy vigorously covering the mound.
Waves of disappointment layered over my expectations. All I saw was so much work and expense ahead of me. The trees needed to be cut down and piles of brush removed. The feeling of mourning that spring still resonates with me. A reminder of all the other hopes and dreams I’d had in my life to that point that had been crushed. The lost expectations of joy. Happiness masquerading the death of dreams.
I took my credit card to Sears and bought clippers, an electric saw, and a gas-powered wood chipper. Rakes, trowels, and shovels followed. And I began to clear the dead and diseased plants and shrubs from the property. I sawed and chipped and raked and dug so by that summer I developed muscles I didn’t know I had. The property became my garden.
What I did that summer of 1989 set the tone for the life I am still leading. Each year the garden provides me with disappointments, with a sense of loss and despair. After a period of sadness and mourning, I recover with renewed energy to create a new reality. New plantings. New approaches. New plans, hopes, and dreams. The garden lives in optimism as do I.
The garden has taught me patience. The closer I watched the garden the more it taught me lessons about life. About renewal. About resilience. About how nothing in the garden or our lives is truly in our control. Tending the garden has helped me to adjust my expectations, to accept that my best intentions and plans can and often will be brushed aside.
The garden also taught me that there is a season and a time for things to happen. It has also taught me that nothing lives forever, perhaps many years, but not forever. That we only have a certain amount of spring times to get it right and we don’t know how many springs we have ahead of us. So time is precious and a gift that I choose not to squander. I still have too many seeds to start and plants to place and flowers to paint. My garden keeps me alert to the cycles of life and the benefits of endurance. I am my garden now.
My Art Starts in the Garden.
To see my art that has been inspired by the gardens surrounding my home,