Originally published on June 22, 2014
Years ago my friend, Deb, gave me a plaque that read, "Bloom where you're planted." Back then it was hard to know whether I was planted here in Toledo or deeply rooted in the desire to escape my hometown as soon as humanly possible. I had just quit teaching. Had high hopes that my novels would publish. That I'd find the man of my dreams, get married, and have a baby or two.
I had no idea that my life wouldn't unfold like the colorful exhibitions at our local botanical gardens -- open to the public and on display. And I wasn't fully prepared for the silent, cyclical experiences I needed to experience as a single woman. But through it all, year by year, season after season, I've tended the flower and herb beds in my own yard. Save for the year I spent in Big Sur working in the gardens at Esalen Institute, I've spent countless springtimes watching the daffodils and crocuses unfurl. Seemingly endless summers weeding and pruning and transplanting. Often too-short autumns gathering the harvest and saving the seeds.
At first, I had no idea what I was doing. Yes, I knew how to plant annuals. How to weed a vegetable bed and not throw the baby out with the bathwater. I could cut the grass and clean the gutters. But didn't know squat about creating a year 'round garden where flowers are blooming in three out of four seasons. Where there's color and texture and variety that suits the soil and the sun allotment. I didn't know how to prune shrubs, so they often toppled under the weight of too many blossoms, too much greenery. But in doing...in trying and experimenting and failing and succeeding...I learned.
Now people often come over for a visit in the summer and compliment me on my gardening skills. I smile and thank them. When they suggest that I'm a master gardener, I shake my head. "I'm good at what I know...and what I know I learned by trial and error."
For at first, my gardens were simple and ornamental. The same annuals year after year. The same color and placement. The same predictable life cycle. But when I threw a wrench into my own carefully laid (and also predictable) plans for what I wanted out of life, my gardens soon reflected the changes. No longer satisfied with rigid rows and static shades of pink and green, I shook things up, planting wild grasses, unusual wildflowers, and a host of perennials that surprised me with their vivid variety.
One year, my neighbor came out and found me elbows deep in fresh compost that filled a rock garden.
"What's going in there?" Kate asked.
I squinted up at her. "I have no idea," I replied, holding up a can of wildflower seeds. "I thought this might be fun to try."
Kate smiled. "What do you think it'll look like?"
I shrugged, "Ida know...I chose it because it'll probably be some outrageous mystery s$%t."
We had a good laugh over that and a few weeks later were amazed at what popped up in the garden...countless varieties of flowers that could have come directly from a Dr. Seuss book.
When relaying that story to a friend whose garden I tend, Tony smiled, "You can plant some of that mystery s$%t in my yard any time."
Ah...such a wonderful thing...having friends who love to embrace the extremes of the unknown. Or at least support me in the process.
Yesterday I spent nearly the entire summer solstice working in my yard. Painting door frames. Weeding. Pruning. Cutting the grass. Making a stone wall for my fairy garden. I spent most of day in silence, save for listening to the birds twittering in the trees, my neighbor's five-year-old son laughing to beat the band while he played in his backyard. It's like a meditation really -- to spend time in my gardens and watch them grow. To pay attention to that which needs a little support -- and to simply enjoy that which knows how to grow and bloom in its own time.
I was saddened to have to cut back some shrubs due to the severe winter we had that damaged some boxwood, euonymus, and my dwarf azaleas. Still, as I clipped and surveyed and clipped some more, taking many of them down to the studs, I knew they would regenerate in time. That they simply needed me to remove the deadwood and underbrush so they could get some fresh air and sunshine. The blooming will have to wait until next season, but I'm in no rush. For I, too, know what it means to take myself down to the knees so that a healthier state of being can emerge. I understand and have experienced the time it takes for new life to take root and eventually rise up from the ashes of seeming destruction.
This summer I'll be spending time promoting my books. Outlining a new novel. Editing a book of blogs that will be available sometime in July. And through it all, gardening will be -- like it always has been -- my anchor and respite.
For you see, I'm finding it's the behind-the-scenes work that suits me best. I like the process of weeding out unnecessary words. Pruning out sections that slow down the story. Nurturing a character's voice to speak more clearly in my imagination. Then I can let the stories and blogs stand for themselves, blooming where they're planted and scattering seeds of inspiration wherever they may land.
I envy my gardens -- the way the flowers seem to open up effortlessly. The way Mother Nature provides endless opportunities for them to continue their life cycle. The ease with which they embody birth and then seeming death and then rebirth once again. They don't have to make any noise at all to make themselves seen; I doubt that the flowers are invested in blooming so that others can notice them. They can't help but be what they are...a beauty to behold.
And yet, when I walk through my yard at twilight, noticing new growth, plucking a stray weed away from a blooming lavender plant, I can't help but imagine every living thing in my yard is aware of my presence. They perk up a little more when I water them and give my attention to their beauty. Each flower intrinsically knows its purpose and part of that is to provide anyone who sees them with a sense of wonder and peace.
There's an enchanting line from the Talmud that reads, "Every blade of grass has its angel that bends over it and whispers, 'Grow, grow.'" I imagine that whenever I'm in my own garden, whether it be my inner or outer one, an angel is whispering the very same thing.
No matter where I'm planted, I can always hear the gentle message, "Grow, Kate...grow...grow."