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Life lessons in the garden

First slide

My garden holds countless life lessons; I’m sure of it. We first saw our house in February. New England in February is beautiful, actually, but it’s beautiful in a shades-of-gray-brown kind of way. The only thing I knew about my garden was its pruned-back landscape that I considered while holding an out-of-season real estate picture. When we moved into the house in early July, the garden had unfurled in all its splendor, and we were surprised by joy.

Then I quickly learned that you cannot leave an acre of cottage garden perennials to fend for themselves for a month in the summertime while you negotiate real estate transactions and moving logistics. The month it lingered here alone was one of rapid growth. Once I arrived, I was a necessarily quick study. The tasks were to discriminate between intentional plants and weeds, and to ruthlessly pull the latter. I pulled plants from the dirt, but I also weeded so much from my life that summer; so much changed and so much was suddenly still. Gone was the constant activity of a home full of kids and their friends. In its place, there were three bereft girls trying to make sense of life in a different house with far fewer siblings under roof.

At a friend’s insistence and with the gift of her tulip selections, we planted intentionally, sinking bulbs into the autumn ground, staking a claim on hope that spring would be beautiful. In the winter we started seeds. Together, we learned more than I ever imagined about perennial gardens and about annual cutting gardens. We also learned to chat over the backyard fence and across the strip of asphalt between houses. Roots began to spread into the ground ever so slowly, even in the winter.

But not much of what we learned in books made sense until we had our hands in the dirt and we saw how the light lands on our little piece of earth. The bulbs burst forth more stunning than I ever imagined. My heart leapt to see all the daffodils the previous owner had left for us — happy, cheerful faces turned to the soft northern spring sun. What a gift those blooms were. Maybe I could find genuine joy in a place long cultivated by someone else. Soon, our tulips took their places alongside, and I was feeling like gardens were my jam.

We put all sorts of plants into the ground last spring. Some did stunningly well. Others went the way of the sunflower: sturdy little starts that died once, twice, all three times we planted them. The garden beds are stages to well-orchestrated dances of many acts. The daffodils and tulips give way to the irises and peonies and roses. The Shasta daisies pop up as the ranunculus wanes. We are snipping buckets full of zinnias right now, and dahlias are beginning to burst into the light.

And I’m finding that I’m not at all who I thought I was. I thought peonies were my favorite, but the double tulips were actually the ones I loved best in the spring. I’ve never been a huge fan of zinnias. But I’m astonished by my zinnia bed every day. We are growing very loyal to one another. Despite the fact that every floor in this house is slanted so we have no flat surfaces for our seed starter trays, they adapted and thrived. Now, even under the apple tree that is throwing far too much shade, they have bloomed prolifically. They have long, strong, sturdy stems and last forever in a vase. The more we delight in them — and cut them to enjoy and give away — the more they bloom. It’s a lot like love, actually.

It’s been a year in the garden. We know just a little more than we did last year, and there is so much more to learn. But the zinnias and their buddies? They make me want to get up in the morning and run barefoot out the back door just to see what the day’s lessons will be. We’re just getting started in the school that is my cottage garden.

Foss, whose website is takeupandread.org, writes from Connecticut. 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021