I wrote this piece for the memoir class I am taking. It is the last of five garden related pieces. I is also where we are today, where I am. And so, I’m putting it here.
I am a gardener.
I notice what goes on in gardens: flowers and vegetables and herbs, perennials, biennials and abundantly blooming annuals that don’t stop until the first frost. I notice trees and bushes, decorative, productive and the volunteers that can be the bane in a gardener’s vision. I notice what the bunnies are eating, what cannot survive without six hours of sun, what the weeds are choking out and what thrives in a microclimate close to a dryer vent on the north side of a house. I know which tulips were planted as bulbs last autumn and which were planted full grown two weeks ago along a walkway with a carefully planned casualness. I admire the window boxes on Beacon Hill—lush, overfull and overflowing, miniature landscapes in harmonies of pinks and creams and lavenders punctuated with trailing greens.
And I find that this spring I am somewhat jealous of those who get to garden in known spaces and boxes because once again, I facing the gardening season in a new house with a tiny new garden that is not really mine. And there is a jealousy too, no, much more a sadness, that rises when I read and hear of the children of friends who are accepted to, winning dean’s honors at and graduating from colleges. The classmates of Julia who are accepting first jobs or admissions to grad school or engagement rings. One is expecting twins in November. I am truly happy and want to celebrate for all of them, but my Julia will never be on any of these paths.
I do not know her path.
Not for lack of my trying, Julia is in a day program that does not fit her needs, and once in each of the last two weeks I have been called to bring her home mid-day for inappropriate behavior. She does not want to be there; I have no where else for her to go. The garden that is her young adulthood is not blooming and I am without agency to change that.
I do not have a garden whose soil and sun I understand, and I do not have a path that I can put my child on. I know they are not the same thing but I have worked so hard at both. Why do the results of the second have to be so desperate?
For today we will work in the garden space that is around the new house we moved into during the cold winter. Again, we are on the first floor of a rental, a green, not blue, house in a pleasant neighborhood. The foundation planting in the front is empty of all but a leggy azalea that has not bloomed this spring, a rhododendron grown too tall and too close to the house and something else that is leafing out but unidentifiable. There is a lilac close the the sidewalk that was planted by my upstairs neighbor, and during April, there were many, many daffodils around the house that she is also responsible for. Those daffodils put a smile on my face during our cold, wet spring.
As has been my way with a new garden, I will spent this first summer observing what comes up, weeding what I don’t want and trimming what is overgrown. Today, we will over seed the small green spaces in the front and back, and think about what to plant in the hayrack planters we bought last week which are destined for the back porch railings. Julia will deadhead the daffodils and I’ll pull out the tiny maple saplings dotting the lawns and garden beds. I will do what I can to teach Julia to make a garden, to make a home.
And on Monday, I will ask our landlord if I can put in a foundation planting in front of the house. Not quickly, over the next few Springs. I will make sure it is easy to tend so as not to expect too much from the next tenant of the house. I am almost sure he will not refuse. And I will spend time on the phone calling day programs that have not accepted new clients in more than three years—the refrain of Covid closures and lack of staffing sung by each one—to make sure Julia is on waiting lists for a better placement at some time in a far distant future. I will look for temporary activities for her to do this summer to relieve some of the pressure of the day program that does not fit her needs except that it is somewhere to go that is not our home.
Ask me what I’d like to plant in a new garden with ample light and space, my list comes to mind almost unbidden—a holly, a pink rhododendron and a peewee hydrangea. Azalea, hollyhocks, lupine and delphinium. Kwanzan Cherry trees, Eastern redbuds and Birch trees. Stargazer lilies and Stella d’Oro Day lilies. Forsythia and pussy willow. Cone flowers, black eyed susans and a rose of sharon. And in the fall I would plant, snowdrops, crocus, hyacinths, iris reticulata and scilla. Tulips, muscari and primrose. And Peonies of as many varieties as can be wedged into a garden space. And for the ver late spring, I would plant the delicate fritillaria meleagris, with its purple and cream colored checkerboard petals that produce an awe in me that is beyond words. Some of these may not do well where I plant them, some will die, but many, many will thrive because I know gardens. I notice what lives, what thrives.
I am a gardener.
Ask me what Julia’s next steps should be, how I can build her future, what steppingstone I have planned for the summer and fall, and I fall silent. I do not know how to give this young adult child a good life.
And yet, I am her mother.