catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 6, Num 3 :: 2007.02.09 — 2007.02.23


More than passing

I am a dabbler.  Given a block of free time (please, give me a block of free time!), I will take a stab at anything.  I’ve learned how to knit, crochet, and most of the painstaking forms of needlework.  Various dark walls of the house hide my attempts at pencil sketches, oils, and pastels.  Quilting, origami, sewing, rug hooking, faux wall painting, costumes, photo albums—tried them all.  Piano lessons, violin lessons, ice skating lessons, calligraphy lessons.  I guess I’ve had some free time over the years after all.

Some hobbies are lifers, though.  These are the hobbies that serve a dual purpose—fun and relaxing for me, and necessary on some other level.  Gardening falls into this category.   I love a freshly planted and mulched flower bed in the spring, full of promising young plants and hope for a flourishing splash of color for the summer.  Equally rewarding for me is an enormous pile of dead wood and prunings, lying near a newly shorn, no longer neglected crab apple tree.  Or maybe this season it will be the pear tree, or the azalea.  And it’s probably time to take another pass at the lilac.  Just thinking about past projects creates lists of the next opportunities.

Gardening is much more for me than the creation of beauty and order though.  My gardens connect me to my neighbors and my family.  Granted, it’s hard to shake hands with muck on my gloves and tools falling out of my pockets, but the dog walkers still stop to consult on my attempts to tame the rhododendron, and friends driving by still pause to offer encouragement, forging links with each contact.  My gardens are full of contributions from dear friends and fellow gardeners.  A family friend, a true English gardener, has used my gardens as safe havens for her perennial divisions.  Over the course of the pass-along, we’ve mangled the names of the plants and their lineage, but point to their spring glories each year as “one of Jill’s plants, what’s it called again?”  My mother’s gardens are always better managed than mine, but she harbors hope for mine, and showers me with lovely bulbs on my birthday and divisions of her own plants as her beds require taming.  My husband’s mother brings me bags of tender volunteers and growing family heirlooms.  Varieties of astilbe arrived last summer from a dear friend’s Virginia garden, with a promise of pink, white and mauve flowers to come.

Some of my plants have complicated heritages.  There’s the Shepherd rose, a lovely pure yellow single rose that my mother has dug from her garden and brought to my last four homes.  She was given this plant by my father’s dad, who grew it next to his garage for years, after digging a piece of it from his boyhood home in New Jersey, where it still grows today.  It thrives in all conditions, hot or cold, clay or rich black soil, dry or boggy, reminding me of the hardiness of my family each spring, regardless of where my home currently is.  Several homes ago, my husband and I were planting our first garden together, and purchased a number of plants from the discount table at a summer-weary nursery.  The French hollyhock was a success story from that outing, and my mother-in-law took some of the next year’s offspring to her garden in Maryland.  Ten years later, she brought to me the latest generation of the same hollyhock, which grew that summer from diminutive three-inch plants to three-foot high shrubs.  Around the corner are the ferns that she rescued from her father-in-law’s garden before the house was sold. 

I’ve moved more than I ever imagined I would throughout my adult life, leaving my gardens with regret and hoping each time that the new owners will love at least a little of what I’ve left behind.  I have the biggest hopes for my trees.  They’ll always be MY trees in my mind, and I visit them from the curb and wish them well when I can.  The oak sapling I planted in one yard has settled in and continues to match the wild oak the developer had spared in the front yard.  The dawn redwood my sons and I planted in another yard has filled out as we imagined, thriving in the low spot of that yard.  A dogwood at another house, a gift for Mother’s Day, has grown from spindly to gracious, as my first child has grown from a baby to a man.  I wonder about the stories behind the lovely pink azaleas and fruit trees that grow in my yard now, but feel certain that they were also planted with love.

Each year as these family treasures push their ways out of the brown cool earth and their tender green leaves out of grey woody stems, I am reminded of, linked to, and grateful for the tenderhearted backyard hobbyists who first planted them with the same hopefulness and sense of excitement that I feel when it is my turn to tuck something new into the ground.

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