“All gardens are a form of autobiography.” – Robert Dash.
I can’t stop thinking about my back yard. To say that events have not unfolded back there as expected this year would be a gross understatement.
I tend to take a benevolent dictator stance as a gardener. I agree to plant seeds with the understanding that in return said seeds will grow into objects of beauty and astonishment, seeking only to please me.
Of course sometimes – ahem- often, things don’t turn out the way I hoped. And when that happens I always think I have next year to correct the situation.
And then I find out I don’t have next year to correct the situation, because the garden has taken a new path altogether, regardless of my wishes. I realize I have counted upon an illusion.
Take this year. In late 2013 a pseudo ice storm froze several Leyland Cypresses, causing them to fall over my fence and knock it down.
As the bitter winter weather continued with low, low temperatures I huddled inside the house unaware of how my plants would be affected.
When spring finally arrived, I saw I had lost Grandfather, my enormous rosemary. I counted on his leaves for cooking and his lovely aroma to greet me as I swam in the deep end of the pool.
And my poor fig tree. It was dormant for a long time and when it finally began to leaf out, it was from the trunk and not the branches. What will this do to my fig crop this year? I don’t know.
Because of the Leyland Cypress tree incident, in the spring we made the decision to cut down our remaining Leylands along the back fence. They had outgrown the bed and covered the patio beside the pool to such an extent that it was impossible to walk past. Down they came, leaving another gaping hole. We planted new arborvitae there which will eventually fill in.
Despite my optimistic outlook, many of my vegetable and flower seedlings drowned in the rainy spring. What has lived has not seemed very robust. And to add insult to injury, to quickly fill in the front of the bed with the new arborvitae, I planted geraniums. Yes, they are hardy and colorful but they look like little old ladies.
My gardening sprits matched the general ennui of the flowers. I could see this would not be a summer in which to have a flower fashion show, for there were no saucy teenaged fuchsias, shapely gourds, or statuesque bee balms in red high heels.
The garden had turned a corner, and so must I. Like so many events in my actual life, the truth of the garden jarred me. Who knew that after so many years of devoted service that I could lose my giant rosemary? That I would have only one single red hot poker bloom? How could I figure out solutions for the garden situation before me? Should I just give up this gardening game?
This backyard dilemma had a ring of familiarity to me. I realized that once again my garden had mirrored my actual life. To make a 32 year old story short, a long time ago I had children.
I did not know what I was doing but I did the best I knew how.
Every time the children reached a new stage in life, I was not ready. I wanted things to stay the way they were, whether it be kindergarten, third grade, or high school, because the future was unknown, and I always thought if I had a little more time I could really get the knack of the current situation.
But those pesky kids kept changing on me, until they finally left the house.
Of course I didn’t know they were really gone when they left, because like all mothers, I had bargained with myself. Sure, I could be a good sport about letting them leave BECAUSE THEY WERE COMING BACK. College is temporary, right?
In time I accepted that they had begun their own lives, and that I had mistakenly believed all these years that I had unlimited opportunities to be a hands on parent. Again, I had relied on an illusion. We had all turned corners, begun to walk new paths. There would be no going back.
I pondered all of this as I regarded the new open spaces in the yard. Where the trees had knocked over the fence, I now had room to put in a few new hydrangeas. I could see that that corner, previously difficult to reach, could now become a destination. The giant rudebeckias would have more sun.
I didn’t plan it, but now that it had happened, it seemed just right.
I decided that the geraniums were a one season aberration. In my mind they would look more at home in a red state yard. That one was as easy to fix as a bad haircut.
And my vegetable garden? I’ve decided it’s time to start over. I’m going to turn the whole area into a larger bed with room for large stands of flowers as well as vegetables. In sections I’ve been turning the last grassy part of the yard into a bed, lasagna style. Before long I will be able to move some flowers which are cramped where they are into spots where they can have more room to breathe.The change will be a good one.
The part where I have existing flowers and vegetables I will leave for the season. Though many things are not hardy, I do have some carrots, tomatoes, a cucumber vine, some okra and tiny eggplants.
But at the end of the season, I’ll uproot everything and lasagna it as well, enriching the soil, which will make a more hospitable environment for next spring. I’ll put some kind of a path leading from my sunroom door all the way to the new destination at the back of the yard.
While I’ve been contemplating what to do in the yard, thoughts of my own life have not been far away. For several years now I’ve been an empty nester, at peace with the new path and actually quite pleased with the fun it has offered. Until I experienced it I never could have dreamed of the pleasures that would come along when one part of life ended and another began.
But I have known that more life changes were in the making, for they always are. Just one week ago today a whole new path opened up for me when I became a grandmother.
GRANDMOTHER????? That would mean my own daughter is a Mother. Thank goodness I did all that good work letting go, so that I am very confident she and her husband are ready for that role.
But what about me? The path is not clear. The only way I know how to be a grandmother is to go over to my daughter’s house several times a week, and to have my grandchild with me at my house the other days of the week. In other words, seamless intimacy. Immersion, even. How will I accomplish this when my grandson lives across the country?
I have worried and worried about this while dumping out bags of peat and pulling the endless weeds which proved to be my most bounteous crop of the season. And now the baby is born. It discombobulates me even to think that he was born AND I WASNT THERE. I haven’t yet held him in my arms, but I gaze at him on FaceTime with some deep intensity every chance I get.
I’ll tell you one thing. Several, actually. Maybe I don’t know yet how I can function as a long distance grandmother, but I am going to kiss the fool out of that tiny blonde head. I’m going to trace every tiny wrinkle in his feet until I know each one by heart. I’m going to memorize the sweet smell of the back of his neck to comfort me when I’m away from him.
As I plan flowers for my new destination spot at the back of the yard, I imagine sometime in the near future a pair of sturdy toddler legs running past me to hide behind the burning bush. It’s just right.