Messy Looking Flowers

Previously published in the Hughson Chronicle-Denair Dispatch.

Coming home from the funeral, a wild mass of sweet peas invited me home.

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That statement is not factually correct but it betrays a truth beyond bare facts. The sweet peas bloomed in May. With my Easter decorations, the sweet peas came. Twice a week I drove to my mother’s house and collected armfuls of sweet peas from her free-flowing garden of the fragrant flower.

Sweet peas. “Messy looking flowers,” my grandmother might say. They are the rose’s arch nemesis. With proper training and tying, the gardener is rewarded with a straight stem, but the petals lack a cohesive form. To its glory, its fragrance rivals the rose.

Last year I sought the consolation of flowers. Tulips and ranunculus at the funeral.

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Then the irises bloom. Mine grew five feet this year. We saw pedestrians pause and point them out. They also came from my mother’s garden to my grandmother’s chagrin.

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Remembering her dislike for their temporary bloom and the long-lasting, plain greens they leave behind, I planted them intentionally, using the greens as a border around our patio.

After the irises come the David Austin roses and those beautiful sweet peas.

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Dahlias and sunflowers wait until summer.

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Spring is a strange thing here in California. We have no bluebells or cockle flowers breaking through the snow-covered yard marking the hope that winter will soon end.

Instead, my mother shows me the sweet peas she started to be transplanted to my yard (in sandy, almond-tree loving soil from her home). It is January now, the beginning of the new year. The irises have little-pointed heads popping up from the ground. I know their roots are spreading underneath making them difficult to transplant now.

The ranunculus planted after the funeral are springing up, alongside weeds. My mother’s home was a paradise of flowers in a dry valley. Last year was my first experience investing myself in gardening. The irises we planted when we moved because they are easy. My husband did the digging.

This is so much like life. I grow up and see the witnesses around us of how to invest, how to remain patient, how to adjust expectations and how to make the most of our harvest. I was cheered and consoled by the work of others. Meanwhile, the roots grew.

There were a small number of people in my life I could trust. I relied on them to guide me through my first investment, console me when the impatience to make life work becomes overwhelming, propose solutions when things do not turn out the way I expected and give me flowers.

Then one day, after many years of dreaming, I finally put on the gardening gloves and dug into the dirt. After planning and planting, I did it myself. Beaming up at my husband, whose large green thumb is ever so obvious and said, “aren’t you proud of me?” I bring my mother over and show her lumps of transplanted bulbs and declare, “I gardened!”

The fruit has yet to be seen, though spring is coming. Some may look at the investments and scoff at its messiness, but others know. Others know how badly we need all types of flowers, the showy rose, humble daisy and disorganized sweet pea. St. Thérèse of Lisieux, herself called “The Little Flower,” wrote “The splendor of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not rob the little violet of its scent nor the daisy of its simple charm. If every tiny flower wanted to be a rose, spring would lose its loveliness. And so it is in the world of souls, Our Lord’s living garden.”

We may feel like life is governed by chaotic chance, but in truth, there are seeds we can plant, water and protect from the weeds. There are steps to take. Whether we rely on the examples of others or we must go it alone, discovering for ourselves what works and what does not work, each person’s life becomes a work of art unto itself and contributes to the overall beauty of the world they inhabit.

So water, weed, endure the fertilizer that smells awful but gives the nutrients we need to grow and wait in patience for the first sign of spring.

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