THE RELUCTANT GARDENER
"Gardening is good for the soul," says my massage therapist cheerily, as I enjoy my first massage in four months, since everything locked down for the Covid-19 pandemic.
"But not for my soul," I reply dourly. "I really don't like it and I grow better weeds than plants."
Though I absolutely love visiting beautiful gardens and receiving bouquets of fresh flowers, I feel very ignorant about the principles of gardening and, frankly, have had little interest in the physical work required, preferring to sit down and read a book. It's doubly embarrassing, as my late mother had an incredible green thumb, loved gardening, and even became a market gardener with my father for a number of years.
I recite to the therapist a litany of my gardening failures over the many years we have lived in our house. We are on a corner lot where two busy streets intersect. When we moved here, there was a massive perennial rockery on that corner. The former owner kindly helped me reduce its size by half and replant some of the hardier perennials. In the many years since then, I have done the bare minimum of gardening, only watering when I put new plants in. I figure if they can survive my neglect and our brutal winters, they deserve to stay.
Some hardly plants, like the colourful Icelandic poppies and deep pink Arctic phlox miraculously come up every year. Surprisingly, the poppies completely died out one year, likely from drought. I replanted a couple of new poppy plants and they are now re-seeding themselves each year. So I slug along, dreading the yearly chores of removing the winter leaves and mulch, digging out weeds and looking for signs of life. This year, there was more work to do, as we were away last year for a couple of months, and the quack grass dug in and took over much of the rockery.
But more plants appeared this year than before and flourished with the abundant spring rains. A lovely surprise was to see three clumps of purple and white perennial pansies which reappeared after a few years' absence. I actually took delight in seeing them, and gradually began losing my resentment. Maybe it's the pandemic, causing me to appreciate things which I didn't in the past hectic pace of life.
Then my feelings about gardening took a real turn recently when a neighbour I hadn't met yet stopped one day and said, "Your garden is a gift to all of us who drive by." What a difference kind words can make! Up to then, I had even been thinking of getting rid of the rockery. But now it feels like the garden has more of a purpose--to bring beauty, and perhaps even delight, to passersby.
That day, I decided to at least try to like gardening. Once I did, I began to ask myself, "Where was I all these years?" I began to contemplate what lessons I could learn from this pastime which so many people seem to enjoy. Besides simply enjoying being outside, I let my mind focus on what the plants--and the weeds--are teaching me. A lesson about a spiritual virtue, loyalty, jumped out. I read this about loyalty: "Loyalty is based on commitments--commitments you make and plan to keep forever."
The brilliant pink Arctic phlox seems an excellent example of this virtue. It has always been my favourite plant, and might be the oldest perennial in the rockery. It does well in full sun and tends to be the first to bloom in spring, and the first to lose its blooms in summer's heat. Despite nearly dying out from drought at different times over the 30 years we have lived here, it has always come back, a sign of hope and loyalty for me. After the long Alberta winter, it always appears to share beauty with my hungry eyes. I have friends and family like that, whose loyalty through the years is a great treasure.
And what about the abundant weeds? This year, as I follow the quack grass, with its long sinewy roots, I think about weeding out qualities in my character that don't serve me or the needs of this age, qualities like excessive materialism, traces of racism, impatience, or excessive self-criticism.
So, I am beginning, slowly, to actually enjoy gardening, and look forward to more lessons as my reluctance fades away.