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Making Friends with Flowers

I did not always know the names of flowers. I knew the popular ones, the ones that most people know: rose, carnation. I came to know the rest in 1999 when I was recovering from an extended illness. I needed a year of peace, I needed to emerge from a winter of illness into something green and growing. So I read gardening books and I made grand plans for how my garden beds would mature. On any day when the weather cooperated I went outside and made the acquaintance of flowers. I learned their habits, I discovered which ones faded out like guests who leave a party without staying to say goodbye. And I learned which ones were my staunch friends.

To my surprise, my best friends were not roses. I thought they would be. My middle name is Rose, I thought I would always carry that connection. We bought this house only a year before my illness when it had twenty rose bushes and my grand plans featured those bushes. I loved them enough to buy rose gloves that went up to my elbows. I tended them, clipping dead flowers all summer long and amassing piles of thorny sticks in the annual pruning. Yet where roses lived it was hard to grow anything else. If I tried to work around the bases of the rosebushes, they drew blood. I wanted many flowers, not just one.

The rosebushes are all gone now. I didn’t set out to remove them all. It was a series of decisions. This bush needed to come out because I wanted a peony. That one had died. Those were blocking passage to the neighbor’s yard and scratching kids as they ran back and forth to play. One by one they were gone. I remember them fondly. But not fondly enough to make space for new ones in my life. Instead I have friendlier, more sturdy flowers. The irises and peonies which are blooming now I planted all those years ago. I’ve neglected them a lot during the years between. They’ve spent much time swamped with weeds. Yet they’re still here. As are the lilacs, mock orange, wisteria, day lilies, bleeding hearts, and lily of the valley.

My garden now does not look much like my grand plan. The plan was beautiful, but high maintenance. What has evolved instead is mostly self sustaining. It is a green space with some flowers instead of a showy floral display space. This spring for the first time in years, I’m once again planning improvements for my garden. They are small plans, all aimed at doing extra work this year when I have help, so that I can do less work in years to come. I’m not even planning the entire summer’s work, just this week and next week. I take each week as it comes, knowing that each Saturday when I take the time to garden, that is a gift. One that I have not always had. I became a gardening because I needed to heal. Gardening still heals me. Why do I forget that?

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