May 3, 2015

The Metaphorical Garden

Rarely have I been more grateful for my garden than I have been in the past few weeks. 

No, the beds are not gorgeous and in full bloom – quite the opposite. After a long winter, there’s always much to do, and this year there’s a little more than usual as most of them seem in need of intensive rehabilitation. We're having the house painted this year, so I may have to move some of the foundation plants at least temporarily, and that's adding to the planning, even if not to the actual work. I’m dozens of hours into it, full weekends and some nights after work when the weather cooperates, with more to do.

My hands ache. My knees are sore, even with my fancy knee pads. My back is tired. I've worn almost through the fingertips on my new gloves, leading to frequent bouts of, well, let’s say somewhat colorful language when something gets in under my nail.  The pile of yard waste that will go to the city's compost program is about the size of a Fiat. I have allergies, I think. 

And I am grateful.

I’m grateful because, while I’m in my garden, I’m fighting to define the boundaries of yard and flower bed, and working to free the tender perennials from the grip of the weeds that so carefully and deviously surround them, or grow right on top of them, as happens with my irises. I try to remember where everything grew last year, where things thrived, so I can make sure they have a happy and healthy home this year. It's tricky; some of the late bloomers haven’t even begun to wake up from their winter’s rest. 

I contemplate the monarda, marching across the beds, and question whether I could possibly turn it into a cash crop. I look for the columbine, a vigorous self-sower which seems to be in short supply this year. And I check on the wisteria and the beauty bush, hoping they are strong enough to bounce back again. I struggle with what to do with the unruly and no longer ornamental grasses, some of which have already been relegated to the back garden.  Is that where the rest of them will spend their days, in Mikey's Meadow?

I worry about the woodchucks and bunnies that might (no, will inevitably) come to dinner in my urban front yard, and what will tickle their fancy this time, as it seems to change each year. Will they covet my coneflowers again? Or, will their palate yearn for poppies or blue flax, or maybe my phlox?  I've kept the fences on the hollyhocks, a perennial favorite, if you will, but there’s always so much for the little devils to pick from, so many tasty young plants that are so hard to resist. I need to have a plan.

And I wonder how I can possibly keep everything safe and not have the garden look like a war zone, how I can have it look the way it's supposed to, full of colors and textures, without its beauty being encumbered by fence and netting.

Even with all of that, I’m grateful. 

The hours I've spent in the garden are hours I've been able to work out my frustrations on why we have such a hard time getting our collective arms around the concept of equality and equal opportunity, and around the concept that all lives matter:  black and white and brown and yellow and red ones, and all of the colors in between.  Lives wearing police uniforms and lives wearing police jumpsuits, or hoodies, or even the god-awful hideous sagging pants. Lives wrapped in a rainbow flag, and lives of those who would chase rainbows looking for a pot of gold. Lives of ‘the believers’ and of those who believe something else entirely, or in nothing at all.  

What a mess we can make of things, and yet what an opportunity we have, I think while I’m out there in the fresh air, working on my garden melting pot.

And I've made progress, according to the guy riding by on his bike yesterday, who shouted an encouraging “keep up the good work, the garden’s coming along!” and the young woman giving a piggy-back ride to a child who made a point to remind me “I think I told you last year too, but I love your garden, it always makes me smile.”  Or one of the littlest who whispered “pretty flowers, Mommy!” as his family walked by, pointing shyly at the white and yellow daffodils, the grape hyacinths, and the miniature tulips in the bed closest to the sidewalk.

Yes, I’m surely grateful.  And it’s time to get back out there.