garden, Just bitchin'

Life Lessons from the Garden

IMG_1303There is a time in childhood when things seem magical. No matter what else is happening in your young life, you believe in things strange and enchanted. It doesn’t last very long.

As adults, we look back on it wistfully, unable to find our way back to that simple, easy faith that made the world such a miraculous place. I was lucky enough to spend much of that magical interval in Granny’s garden.

Shortly after I was born, my parents’ marriage began to flicker. It was only a matter of time before the light went out of it completely. I knew something was wrong.

But I had Granny’s garden that summer I was six years old.

While my parents sorted out their troubles, they sent me off to Granny’s.

I remember wooden floors baked honey-warm by sunlight streaming through windows with tiny stained glass borders of purple grapes and gold-green vines coloring the rays. I remember the quiet purring of Granny’s cat and the brown sugar scent of its fur. I remember an endless supply of home-baked cookies frosted in pretty pinks and yellows.

But mostly I remember the garden.

There is something to be said for living on the same piece of land for fifty years. You learn its rhythms, its pulse, its eccentricities. Bulbs naturalize in patterns only nature could paint. Perennials root more and more deeply, soaring to new heights of beauty each year. Annuals self-seed in new locations chosen by wind and chance, bringing colorful surprises each spring.

On fine, sunny days Granny and I would venture forth into the garden. I would spend hours exploring its wonders while she sowed and weeded and watered. Toward the end of each day, sunburned and berry-stained, I would watch her worn, brown hands as she performed each task with a peaceful kind of grace.

Sometimes she would tell me stories. Sometimes they were about my mother when she was a little girl. Sometimes they were fairy tales built around the denizens of her garden; the flower fairies. I was mesmerized by Jolly Holly Berry, Phyllis Foxglove, and Tiny Johnny Jump-Up, to name a few.

One day as summer was drawing to a close, I was sad, knowing school would start soon and summer in the garden would end. Granny was pruning back bits of my favorite rose. It was a vigorous climber, covered in tiny, pink blossoms. Granny said it was called “Fairies’ Blanket.” I took the name literally and was always peeking behind the arching sprays of pink to see if I could catch a fairy napping.

“The deer have been at it again!” she said, shaking her head. “See these bare tips where the flowers and leaves are missing? That’s deer-work all right.”

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I was uncharacteristically silent. The quiet snipping of the pruning shears continued for a while. Then…

“Child, you know your parents’ troubles have nothing to do with you, don’t you?” Somehow Granny knew what the root of my six-year-old worries were.

“I know…..but…”

“But what?”

“Nothing.”

Granny squinted into the sunlight, searching for more deer-work to trim.

“You know, I planted this rose the day your grandfather passed on.” With gentle fingers she loosened a spray of blossoms that had become tangled with its neighbor.

“Your Grandpa was the light of my life. And I was his. When he left, I thought there’d never be anything happy or beautiful again. So I planted this rose.”

“So?”

“So look at all the damage those deer have done. But once I trim it away, you can bet there’ll be more roses growing from the wound. It just takes time.”

She reached higher, using the shears to snag a tall stem and bring it closer.

“Some of the best parts of life have happened to me since your Grandpa died. You, for one. I didn’t know how happy grandchildren would make me. You’re a kind of rose. A different kind than Grandpa was, but still…a rose.”

She stepped back, squinting against the sun to survey her work.

“The point is, child, no matter what gets ripped away from you by things you can’t control, something else just as wonderful could be in store, waiting to grow from the wound. Just give it time.”

An awful lot of things have happened since that summer. My parents did divorce. I have my own home now. My garden isn’t near as nice as Granny’s was, but there’s a rose climbing up outside my kitchen door. It’s covered with tiny, pink, perfect blossoms from June to mid-November. I’ve seen a deer come and nibble on it from time to time. It doesn’t really matter. I prune out the damage to make room for new flowers.

It takes time, but beauty will grow from the wound. And it’s worth the wait.

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