In her book and I shall have some peace there, Margaret Roach tells a story of self-awareness when she took a week off to garden at her then weekend home in upstate New York. Her two friends from Seattle, fabulous gardeners–Charles and Glenn, were there to help her. As she was working in one part of the yard, she looked over and saw Charles whacking away at her Hylemecon Japonicum, a plant she had nurtured and watched over for ten years, an unusual find at a Wildflower Society Sale in New England. She was DEVASTATED, which probably showed in the volume of her voice and the things she said to Charles at the time. She just could not imagine her plant not being right there where she’d planted it, growing back each spring after curling up and lying dormant underground each winter. It looks dead each winter, but really it’s not.
But there’s a happy ending. The next April, and each spring after, Ms. Roach’s yard was literally blanketed in this precious plant. There is great joy and reminder in the sight of all that has come from the chopping up of her plant.
I thought about this a couple of days ago when I planted our new butterfly bushes. I remember the first time I pulled up at Mama and Daddy’s house and saw the butterfly bushes I’d given Daddy–the ones that had been THRIVING–were cut back to almost nothingness. Oh my word, who had lost their mind and WHY? Daddy explained to me that this was so they would grow even stronger the next spring. And he was right. I grew up around peaches, and they were a big part of my life at one point. It was so hard to watch the trees being pruned and to fear that the ones who wielded the pruning shears would not be careful enough. But it was for the better growth of the trees. The Lantana Daddy kept by the air conditioner unit outside is the same way. Roses too. Cut them back in winter, they’ll grow back in the spring.
I can sympathize with Ms. Roach. Last fall we were cleaning up the flower beds and preparing to put out more pinestraw. I had walked away for a moment to catch up with my sweet neighborfriend. When I turned around I saw my husband using a shovel to dig up what he thought was a weed. I couldn’t breathe. Tears were ready to flow. He was digging and chopping up my Hairy Wandering Jew that my gardening friend had not only given me but planted in the bed herself, showing me that it would grow better outside of the pot she had brought it over in. (And that’s another lesson my friends–for another time.)
Devastated doesn’t even begin to cut it. Mad. Upset. Hurt. Check, check, and check. As I stood over the delicate tendrils of my little plant–all whacked to pieces and lying limply in the soil, I cried and reached down. I didn’t have it in me to throw the pieces out. I covered them in pinestraw and walked away. Heartbroken. I know, it’s just a plant, but it meant something to me because of the love and care of a friend that it represented. And because it was something I was helping to live. That was huge.
I had no idea that these plants have the amazing ability to come back, like roses and butterfly bushes and peaches. And so much else in our world. Maybe even–me?
Today I was out repotting some of my herbs and cacti, and I looked over at that flower bed and smiled. Because instead of the one little cluster of Hairy Wandering Jew, there is a great spread of them. Growing and thriving. Determined. Beautiful.
It is mind-blowing to me that what looks like death, like THE END, only serves to strengthen the growth when the dormant period is over. The idea that brokenness can not only be mended but actually fosters more growth than before. Mind. Blown. It defies logic. C’mon, this is amazing stuff, right?
Last year I gave Mama a pink geranium for Mother’s Day. She loved it. Unfortunately between her HospitalStay last August and then the horrible one in January-February, we didn’t take very good care of it. I’ll just say it–we let it die. Our minds were on other things besides watering and pruning and the like.
At the beginning of spring, I was over at the house taking care of a few things, and I noticed a tiny bit of green in the abandoned pot sitting over by the edge of the back porch steps. Surely not. But I moved it to sit against Daddy’s building–it would get sun but not a lot, and maybe a little more rain than normal from what would run off the roof. I was not going to be able to water it regularly. Taking her from her home did not enter my mind, oddly enough. And look at her go now!
I may be oversimplifying things, but I find comfort in knowing that that which is broken, that which appears to be without life can actually be getting ready to grow better than ever before. I know what brokenness feels like from the inside out. Most of us do. I know what dormancy is like. I often have those days now. Call me silly, but I look at these plants, these flowers, and knowing what they looked like just a few months ago, I find a bit of peace and some hope to cling to. Maybe, just maybe, all the raw brokenness inside and all that which seems dead will, after a time of dormancy, be ready to grow again. Ready to grow and spread all that was planted inside of me by my Mama and Daddy–seeds of loving unconditionally, seeking justice, fighting for what’s right, walking away from what’s not, and just being there for each other.
I found this quote today. It speaks to what I’ve been thinking a lot lately.
To be interested in the changing seasons is a happier state of mind than to be hopelessly in love with Spring —- George Santayana
I have always savored the anticipation of the next season coming along, while being fairly content in the current season. The point is, without the quiet and death-like dormancy of Winter in our lives, there would be no Spring and all that beautiful growth. And that fills me with hope. And as I just wrote to a friend, “Always. Always hold onto hope. It’s free. So why not?”