Life Lessons from the Garden

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.

 

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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.

 

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Photo by Gabriel Jimenez on Unsplash

 

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.

 

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Photo by Mark Kamalov on Unsplash

 

It is a beautiful thing…this life, and the lessons we learn from gardening.

 

Discloser of Material Connection: I am a freelance writer for the Hughson Chronicle. As such, this is a “sponsored post,” reprinted with permission. The company who sponsored it compensated me via a cash payment to write it. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.

Life after death: a garden path out of loss and trauma

Our lavender crop was booming. Like the growth of the year, much of this lay dormant last year, hardly producing a single bunch. There were blooms, but the harvest was quiet, individual and hung in my closet to be later put on my nightstand.

This year, the kids gathered around as I cut handful upon handful from one bush. They watched as I carried it to the picnic table and after some moments of quiet work, I invited them to join. Together we cleaned the stems and Miriam stripped the buds from the too-short-to-bundle stems for shortbread cookies and lavender lemonade.

Mother and daughter separating lavender buds from stalks

It was fragrant, beautiful and messy.

bunches of lavender on a picnic table

Much like this year.

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Like my garden, I am finding my way.

1

I joined a launch team to promote a book called Grace Like Scarlett by Adriel Booker.

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2

I attended and reported on Sienna’s Walk, part of the 1 in 4 Stillborn Still Loved awareness campaign. It was an honor to hear the stories of women there, and a blessing to experience the sense that I am not alone in our experience, that the mess of complicated emotions, joy with sorrow, are felt by others, too.

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3

I published my first ebook, a book of reflections on the holy rosary for women who grieve. This project remains close to my heart and every time I get a notification that another person has signed up to receive it, I feel a spark of light in my heart. I pray my writing is a gift for you and communicates to you that you are not alone. Whatever life’s trials, there is a way forward.

If you haven’t had a chance to see it, click the link here to have it delivered for free to your inbox.

4

A piece I wrote was published on Blessed is She, “a community full of women just like you that seek support in their relationship with the Lord and want to connect together with Scripture.” The piece, titled “Believing in Beauty” shares how the contemplation of beauty kept me grounded and maintained my vision throughout the darkest times of grief.

5

Over the weekend, I led a committee for the Young Ladies Institute (YLI) who hosted a Mother’s Day Tea. The tickets cost $1 to ensure that anyone who wanted to come, could afford it. Members volunteered to create centerpieces for an eclectic and beautifully diverse setting. With the increasing numbers as the day passed, I grabbed the chance to decorate three tables.

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During the afternoon, I gave a short exhortation on the call of motherhood. It was my first time public speaking in years, and the first time I acknowledged for a group of people, “I have four children on earth and three in Heaven.”

It was not meant to draw sighs or sadness, but to let those mothers present know that when I talk about the trials of motherhood, and a mother cries for a moment in her heart at what she has endured, that I see her.

I do not know her, but I see her.

I will not speak about motherhood blindly. All that love comes with the cross.

The shape of this year is more than I could have expected and not at all a standardized answer to the question, “what will life look like?” But like the garden, as I carried Celeste under my heart with her heart beating, her body, growing and alive, I prepared, I cried, I built safety structures around me to bolster my heart when she left.

I leaned into grief.

And with all that planting, when she died and we laid her to rest, after the dormant period,

things began to grow.

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.