Just came in from pulling a few weeds in my yard. It’s been a cool, damp spring here, and my flowers are coming into bloom. With deadlines pressing, the time would have been better spent at the computer. But something in me craves that hands-in-the-earth feeling. Besides, I’ve come up with a good excuse–it’s genetic.
The once-remote mountain valley where I grew up was settled by Danish immigrants in the late 1800s. They arrived to sagebrush flats with gravelly gray soil that had to be tilled, fertilized and irrigated before anything would grow. Winters were long and cold, summers brief and blistering, with never enough rain. The corn, wheat and root vegetables they planted had to be coaxed out of the ground with backbreaking labor. Still, women planted flowers. Precious seeds, starts and bulbs, carried in wagons, were passed from neighbor to neighbor, from mother to daughter. Before long the little town was in bloom.
My grandmother, whose parents were among those early settlers, had a beautiful yard. Her flowers were likely descendants of those lovingly guarded little sprigs. I loved their names—baby’s breath, sweet peas, snowball bushes, bridal wreath, irises and peonies. Grandma taught me how to make dancing girls out of hollyhock flowers using the petals as skirts. (We didn’t have hollyhocks at our house because my dad maintained that people planted them to hide the outhouse.) But my favorite flowers of all were the climbing yellow roses that covered Grandpa’s old garage. Tough and prickly, with a heavenly fragrance, they grew all over town.
Years later, after I’d moved to a gentler climate with better soil, I dug up a small shoot from those roses and planted it in my yard. Accustomed to harsher conditions, the little bush became a wild, thorny monster that couldn’t be cut back fast enough. I left it behind for the new owners when I moved—next time I drove by they’d taken it out.
My mother was a gardener, too. Six years ago, when she was diagnosed with terminal cancer, someone asked her what she planned to do in her remaining weeks. “I’m going home and plant my flowers,” was her reply. Those flowers were just coming into bloom when Mom passed away.
Last month I visited my California daughter. She proudly showed me the space behind her condo that she’d turned into a tiny oasis with bamboo and lavender and hibiscus. The gardening gene is alive and well.
So far I have just one granddaughter, the offspring of a son who doesn’t know a dahlia from a dandelion. She’s only two, but her mother has mentioned that she likes to help plant flowers. There’s hope.
Are you a gardener? Do you have a favorite flower, or one that reminds you of something special? I’d love to hear.