Previously published in the Hughson Chronicle-Denair Dispatch
I looked out the window to my mess of a backyard. Birdseed drove foreign plants out from the lawn of assorted weeds. The wild, drought-tolerant and all-too-happy to be watered plants had grown, taking over the slow and steady evergreens I hoped to still see this winter.
I am inclined to visit our front yard in the evenings when the sun sets behind the house, neighbors walk their dogs and children while I sip something delicious and my kids roll around on their bikes behind the safety of our little fence. Nothing drew me to the backyard. It is the place of forgetfulness, where I send the kids after their wiggles have wearied me for the last time.
This is the summer of endless heat. I can remember just one day when it dipped to a cool 94 and we felt we could handle the outdoors all the way up until noon. Other days, we are running for shelter by 10 a.m. particularly if we dared to do any housework and break a sweat.
You see, my son cannot tolerate the heat. His medical needs dictate it so. Summer bears a particular burden I had never known before.
Drained and dried out from being indoors all day, I finally started to sip my coffee in the backyard, while the sun shined full force on the front of our east-facing house.
That I can stand and stare at a garden bed, pondering its plants, their placement and their challenges, and then discuss it with others as we stare into the abyss of dirt and new growth, to me, is the clearest sign of adulthood. I saw these conversations pass between my mother and other adults. I nodded politely through my twenties as she discussed it.
The love of gardening dawned on me at my aunt’s house in the California coastal redwoods outside Santa Cruz. Form and fancy British gardens were not for me. Bring me the wild sweet peas, the daisies, the ivy. And let them grow.
Those were my first years of gardening. We planted wormwood and Jupiter’s beard and daylilies in the backyard. Like childhood, you let it grow and see what comes.
Then comes the realization that the small plants are suffocating, the wormwood is covered with aphids and crabgrass has spread beyond belief. While our native plants punctuate Highway 99, most will agree, such untended growth is hardly the stuff of ladies’ magazines.
It is time to prune and to weed. I hope this happens in adolescence, more likely it takes place after college when we see the fruit of the way we have lived in those, generally, easier years of education. We begin to learn our faults, to work to improve, to cultivate our virtues.
Then I consider. What would work better here? Too many of my plants are the stringy, small-leafed, flowerless kind. It needs more. Dare I say, it needs more structure.
Now I am in my thirties and ready to consider what is missing. I have wisdom enough to realize how glad I am for the things that could grow on their own when my life was too full of heartache to care for them. That natural ability to survive gives us something even in the hottest of summers, even if it is not the plant we might have chosen in the spring.
While I may have eschewed my mother’s garden for its roses and formality, I find myself turning to her to discover how to bring order to the fade of spring and the height of summer’s growth. This is the age to ask for wisdom from those who have practiced it for many years.
What happens in the fall? I can look at books and internet blogs to learn. Yet I know, from coming this far, the education and book knowledge is second hand to learning and living it myself. There will come a time when I feel compelled to replant, to dig up bulbs, divide and share. It will come naturally, just as surely as the planting, pruning and planning have.
It is a beautiful thing…this life, and the lessons we learn from gardening.