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Monday, February 18, 2008

My Garden

[This is a difficult post to write.]

It's odd to me how an event can somehow manage to divide my life into before and after, how thinking about the before and after makes me uncomfortable and nervous and shaky, as though acknowledging it does--what?--gives it even more power? And I know that life is full of befores and afters, that every day, every moment, is a before and an after, and that somehow we all manage to keep going...But still, it's uncomfortable to write about it.

When Richard and I married we bought a house down in town. It had a California-sized backyard, which is to say, not very big, at least compared to Michigan standards. But I immediately started gardening. In fact, now that I think about it, even when I moved to California for my first teaching job at the tender age of twenty-one I rented an apartment that had a little mini-plot next to the back patio, which my mom and I planted during the week she spent out here helping me get settled in... And now that I really think about it, I even wanted to grow plants while I was at Michigan State. I remember during my senior year I potted a red geranium to sit on my bedroom windowsill (I love red geraniums in terracotta pots). It failed to thrive because we lived in a basement apartment, but the urge was there.

So I'm a gardener. Or I was a gardener. But I want to make the point that I've loved gardening for a very long, long time.

When we moved up into the foothills, I changed the pasture fence to create a large space for a garden, with paths and benches and birdbaths. I fell in love, absolutely totally crazy in love, with antique roses. These roses, the musks, bourbons, teas, chinas, and damasks, are the graceful, perfumed older sisters of today's gawky hybrid tea roses. They've lovely names, like Madame Isaac Periere, Louise Odier, Souvenir de la Malmaison, and Arrillaga, and the flowers take your breath away with their scent and their beauty.

And I didn't just love roses, oh no. I loved lavender, with its dusty grey potent leaves, and all of the sage family, with its scented leaves and purple or magenta flowers, and the sedums, with their heavy waxy leaves and glowing flowers late in the season, and some of the ornamental grasses, whose fronds waved delicately in the afternoon breeze of the foothills...

I was in love. Every spare second was spent in the garden. I belonged to the evening garden club, and even hosted a meeting when I was pregnant out to HERE with Jenny, just so everyone could see how lovely the garden was in the fall... And I hesitate to write this, but there was more to my gardening than just the plants or the scents or the beauty--in every moment of it, there was something profound and spiritual, deeply moving and satisfying...

And then came May of 2001, when I went to a garden tour in another foothill town north of here, saw a beautiful and magical garden, and returned home to find out that my mother had died.

And though it sounds unbelievable to even write the words, that was the day I stopped gardening.

I just stopped. And I know, there's no rhyme or reason to a decision like that, born of grief and who knows what other emotions. But there you are, I stopped gardening. My husband helped the roses survive by watering a few times each summer, as we get NO rainfall here from May till November, but I did nothing to keep my garden alive. I didn't even wander down to the garden to look around, although I do remember looking out the kitchen window every spring and fall to see the glorious riot of blooms on the roses that bordered the edge of the garden...and I'd smell the lilacs that bloomed every spring along the edge of the pool deck...and I'd enjoy the scent of the honeysuckle that wound its way through the tangle of roses alongside the patio...but actually garden? No.

And today? Why am I writing about all of this today?

Well, today I ventured down into the garden, where the paths are obscured by long spring grass, and took the clippers and pruned back some of my beautiful roses that have suffered so for the last seven years. I apologized as I cut, and felt them breathe a sigh of relief as I reached bare hands in amongst the prickly canes to pull the weeds growing so thickly around their necks. They've survived without my love and attention for so long, but amazingly I feel as though they've forgiven me for my desertion...

I feel as though I've come home after a long, long absence, and been welcomed back with love and forgiveness, the prodigal gardener, so to speak. And in this return is maybe, maybe, some healing and growth for my spirit as well as for my beloved roses. Maybe...


dawn said...

sweetheart, because you planted the oldfashioneds, you will probably be forgiven.

(my roses are dancing in their skivvies with this weather. i lost my louise odier this past year due to neglect postdivorce and too much shade from a pecan tree that isn't there anymore. but my MIP and SDLM are leafing out like crazy.)

when we stop gardening is probably the purest barometer there is to our soulcheck. karen, i am so happy to read that your soul has started ticking again and i am just warning you...your roses will make you pay. just a little. :0

Lynn said...

What a beautifully personal thing to share. Thank you.

I am happy that you have come to this curve in your journey and that you were able to take clippers into the garden today. Once again. And that it is roses you are clipping, restoring, and that they patiently waited until you were ready, waited for you...survived for you, so you can and will enjoy them once more.

I am happy for the roses and I am most happy for YOU Karen!

Sue Doe-Nim said...

Oh my.

Eve and I were in the garden today. When the flowers bloom (and they will in just a few months) and the tomatoes are sweet and drippy I will think of you.

And your mother.

Maybelline Jones said...

What a beautiful and poignant post. I hope your garden can help you heal. Perhaps you can share this love with your own daughters?

sukipoet said...

A moving story. And now, you are ready to return to the garden which waited for you all these years. Peace be with you. Sorry about your mom. Suki

Olivia said...

What a beautiful story, Karen...of loss, of healing, and of the earth...I am not a gardener at all, but I was very touched by this. Thank you for sharing this with us. I am very happy that you had this experience and hope hope hope that your relationship with your roses continues...Love, O

Maddy said...

I gave up a lot of things too, about 5 years ago. I'm only starting to pick up the pieces now. Good for you dearie.

I tagged you over here

Lynn said...

Now I want to share a mother rose garden story with you. My mother planted her roses so many years ago, I am going to guess it was 1942 the year after I was born, unless she did it while pregnant with me, could be. Those roses grew all my growing up years, were put into bowls and vases in the house.

When I was in my thirties my father once gave me a bouquet of them as a peace offering as we'd been having some difficulties together.

Today my parents are both long dead. However, when I drive to the town where I was born, and I drive past that house where I grew up birth to age 18 before leaving home, I see a rather ramshackled worn old wooden house, but the rose bushes are still there. I'd like some time to catch them in bloom. It would make another nice memory.

Jill said...

What a beautiful post... so heartfelt and honest. Your garden is your place to heal... it is reaching out to you... it waited until you were ready. Oh yes... our gardens... our little pieces of paradise and therapy.
Thank you for sharing this with us.

Cestandrea said...

Dear Karen,
I send you all my love, I'm very touched, like all our other blogfriends here and so happy for your roses that your have come back to them. It is a story about love and grief, thank you for sharing it with us!
I send you lots of love

Mercer's Daughter said...

Bless your heart:) I'm so glad that you ventured back to your garden. I guess sometimes our hearts hurt so much we can hardly breathe. Thanks for sharing your pain and healing. I wish I could give you a hug, but just know I send you tons of peace and best wishes. Maybe our mom's know each other in Heaven:)