Thursday, June 22, 2006

Wherein I End With A Poem I Used To Think Was Maudlin.

A Perfect Post

*Amy, over at Binkytown was more than kind to nominate me for a Perfect Post award. Thank you. Although sometimes one might think I get regular chatty serum injections, right now, it's hard to say exactly how much this means to me. I am grateful. That goes for Her Bad Mother, as well, who also considered a post I've since deleted "Perfect" as well - which it was, in a sense because it served its purpose - but I couldn't have had this one without that one.

“The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature. To nurture a garden is to feed not just on the body, but the soul.”
(Alfred Austin)

streetlights throught crabapple tree

I tend to my garden at night, not in the sun, mainly because I have a two-year old. One who tends to bolt, and given the span of a sidewalk, it is simply not an aggravation I ever want to indulge in with her - that's what the back yard is for. The front is mine. It is all hot sun or the shadow of our house. I've planted it carefully, so that it doesn't need much help from me, but the difference between lush and overgrown means that every couple of weeks I need to get my hands dirty.

After Josephine is sleeping and Steve is busy elsewhere, I'll go out at dusk, and tackle it. It's not so hot then, and the delineation between sunshine and shadow isn't as stark.

sunshine and shadow

Last night, after Steve helped me with a few things, he left me with a comment to the effect that he knew this was where I found peace. "Zen" was the word he used, in the sense that I meditate when I garden. It's true. But I also open up to the people that pass by instead of staying in my head - it's easier to say "hello" or "good night" in the dark; to catch fragments of conversations from late-night walkers or people using the park across the street, or to indulge in patting a dog when people aren't in hurry. Zen meditation is done with others, in order to avoid personal vanity, correct?

Sounds are louder at night, and I see the blue flicker of the lights from televisions up and down the street through the townhouse windowpanes and I feel at once a part of my street and alone with my thoughts.

It's a fine time for thinking, and now that I CAN think, without the thoughts racketing around in a cacophony of stress, my ruminations are restful and singular. They come and stay, then get filed away, instead of ending up in a panicked pile.

I looked over my garden last night, and it took on a new shape and it has a new future. My thoughts were both practical and ethereal.

“Beyond its practical aspects, gardening - be it of the soil or soul - can lead us on a philosophical and spiritual exploration that is nothing less than a journey into the depths of our own sacredness and the sacredness of all beings.”
(Christopher Forrest McDowell)

First, the Kale and Brussels Sprouts, which were charming and quirky a month ago, had become hideously overgrown, gargantuan, pale sprouty things - heavy enough to fall over. They had to go.

(Know when to let go of something that used to work and doesn't any more. Or, as a friend told me recently, "When the horse is dead, dismount.")

overview at night

The Snow on the Mountain has become very invasive, and I like that. It hides a lot of sins, and saves me a lot of work. It also hid a small shrub and a fifteen-dollar Coleus, which had to be moved. It also means I've had to let the three Spireas and the Roseglow Barberry bushes grow taller if I don't want to trim it shorter and keep it from flowering. The Flowering Crabapple tree will need pruning next spring so that it will have a prettier shape and more graceful spread over it all.

(Go with what works. Change what I can change, and let other things adapt on their own. Learn to do something new, and anticipate challenges. Let things take more shape before making decisions.)

I planted a new Cedar shrub in an empty space, moved things around a bit, pulled some weeds until it was too dark to tell the difference, I thought about what was working, and about the things to do when next I had the chance. The Golden Creeping Jenny is working beautifully around all the edges. I should get some more and fill in a few more spots. The colours are pleasing - all variegated greens and golds, greens and whites, and touches of pinks and fuchsias. It's all perennial - and everything is there because I find it beautiful, or because it has meaning. It was nice to find the Lavender doing well, and to think of the friend I planted it to honour. Both the Lavender and the Thyme smell different at night. Homey's grave is there, and the Burning Bush above it is waiting for Autumn to show its glory.

(Try something new. Stop and think a bit - but not too much. Know what you like. Low-maintenance is really, really working for me. Things have to have meaning for me, or I find them useless and frustrating. Remember those who care about you. Remember those who are gone, and that life is short. We all have dormant and showy periods in our lives.)

And although I know it's not a great practice to water at night, I pulled out the hose and soaked the roots of the new shrub and the plants I'd moved. All of the "bones" got a good drink too, the Boxwood and the Euonymous and the Yew. I didn't water the Day Lilies - they are taller than I am and can stand a little neglect. They are thriving despite me, those pesty things. I swept and hosed off the walk, pulled some weeds out of the crevices in the slate walkway (which needs some Thyme between the cracks) and weeded the crushed brick walkway between the beds. That will need some smoother river stone, as it hurts my feet to walk on barefoot; but I'll have to wait for a day when I feel like cleaning the brick out, laying weedcloth and then lugging heavy bags of stone to cover it again. I felt the thrill of accomplishment, and pride for my home. You see, my neighbours have lovely, lovely well-maintained front yards (and grown children and more money than we have) - but might I say (somewhat bashfully, mixed with pride), that while they are indeed very beautiful homes and gardens - people have stopped to tell me they LOVE my garden. Once I was told "They have plants. You have a garden."

(Do what you can when you can. Take care of what nourishes you. Leave some things to themselves, especially if they're fine without you. A little basic maintenance once in a while is better then having to do a huge clean up when you can least afford to. If something is painful, get it out of your life - but do a good job of it or you may make a bigger mess. Apportion your energy, and keep the greater reward in mind. Take pride where pride is due. Recognize different kinds of beauty in others and others will recognize your own unique beauty.)


I wound the hose carefully and put it away. We've been through several hoses over the years, always looking for one that we really enjoy using, and this latest incarnation isn't any better than any of the others. They're always heavy and long enough to reach the front and back. Despite manufacturers' promises of improvement, they all have their quirks. So what if this one doesn't kink - it's stiff.

(Some things don't need to be better - I need to adjust my attitude about them instead. Too many easy things can actually make the harder things seem harder. The extra weight is good exercise. It takes patience to work out the knots. If I put it back properly, it's easier to use when next I need it. It works - what more do I need it to do?)

Last night, despite the extra work and feeling of satisfaction, I didn't sleep any better than I usually do - but at least my head was full of happy thoughts. A good friend with similar anxieties told me something that helps me feel better about what I'm experiencing - that the meds don't help with the insomnia, they just keep the anxious thoughts at bay. Insomnia is a part of her, as it is a part of me. That hasn't changed.

(It is a relief to know that I am not a new person - just an improved person.)


This morning, Josephine and I had a lovely time in the back yard. I could enjoy it, because the duty to the front yard wasn't nagging at me. How proud I was, that I had given myself that luxury - in the sense of the work last night, and the ability to sit quietly and enjoy her because I wasn't running a thousand other things through my head.

We pulled out the hose again for her kiddie pool, and while she put the water everywhere but inside it. I puttered around the back yard a bit and enjoyed the first morning of Summer.

peeking clematis

On the hot and bright side in the mornings, the neighbours' Clematis is winding itself around our side of the fence too.

(It's nice to have good neighbours. It's even nicer than having good relatives.)

hidden buddha

Buddha is developing a nice patina, hidden under his Cedar bush and behind the "Elvis Lives" Hosta. He is beautiful, and I am happy that he lives in my garden even though I am not a Buddhist. He was a gift from my cousin, who didn't want him in her garden (he had been in the garden of the house she bought, along with two pagodas, one large and one small). Boo Boo often hides under the Cedars with them. Perhaps he'll be a good influence on Boo Boo.

(One man's trash is another man's treasure. Boo Boo is better not seen and not heard.)

discard pile

Sadly, the raccoons broke the Elvis that had been mysteriously deposited on our front lawn one night. I'd thought about making something with the remains, but I really don't need another project. I'm behind in a few as it is. I'm never going to fill those baskets - I've had them for three years and just haven't. That garbage-picked little ride-on toy was just what I needed to thwart a tantrum and get Josie home happily one day - but it's not something I want to have around forever. It has an aged charm, but it's not great to actually ride on and I don't really need another quirky decorative plant holder that tempts Josephine too much.

(Know your limits. De-clutter not just stuff, but misplaced and imagined obligations. Use what is put in your path, but know you don't have to carry things around forever. Sometimes one man's junk is just one man's junk. Don't let your own quirks become obstacles for others to overcome.)

last rose left

The difference between lush and overgrown is mirrored in the difference between patina and weather-beaten. Behind my patinated garden chairs peeks the only unpicked rose on my rosebush. Thankfully Pansies are plentiful and regenerate, because my Snapdragons are bare and my Petunias are irresistible for plucking (they also fade too quickly and have yucky, sticky stems). But next year, or even the year after, the vintage garden furniture will transcend shabby chic and I'll have decisions to make about how to restore it. I'll think of that another day. I never seem to want brand new things, but I'm sad that old things can't last forever.) And what is the point of having flowers, if not to bring them to friends?

flowers for friends

(In things, as in persons, patinated is good - it's charming and has character and speaks of hidden stories. Weather-beaten is not so good. It speaks of neglect and carelessness. Aim for patina, but understand we all become weather-beaten and might need to restore ourselves. The best flowers, as with people, can stand a little more wear and will come back again and again. Enjoy things as they are and while you have them. Share. Trying to stop a toddler from picking a flower is like trying to get a puppy off a pork chop.)


Josephine decided that pouring four buckets of water in her sandbox and jumping in the sludge was more fun than playing in the pool. I have to remember that technically, they are her toys to enjoy as she wants to. The purpose of these mornings at home is to make the most of what can be the best part of our day. Thankfully, it's a little easier to let go of the need to control messes these days. She is beautiful in her absorption and innovation; and I love that she isn't tethered by a false need for neatness when playing.

(Fun is when two people are enjoying something. There is no such thing as being neat with sand.)

swimsuit on the line

And then it was time to get ready for work. The clumpy, wet sand fell out of her little bum crack in a wedge shape. It was a good thing that we had decided to take up the area rugs and live with bare floors for the summer, because the sand in those little swim shoes would have sunk her in the pool like cement shoes on a stool pigeon.

(There is nothing cuter than a ruffley-bottomed swim suit. On a little girl. Only on a little girl.)

looking forward  to snowball hydrangeas

As we traveled our front walk, I noticed my first white Coneflower has bloomed. And soon my Snowball Hydrangeas will too.

(Try to give yourself things to look forward to. Your garden is ever-changing, as is your self.)

And because I am tending my gardens, both inner and outer, my daughter is blooming too. And so we will enjoy a summer filled with wet hair and sandy skin, and the sound of our legs unsucking themselves from the oilcloth cushions on the glider in our back yard. The front garden is taking care of itself. Goodbye, misplaced anxieties. I feel better and don't need to hang onto them any longer. Out with the Brussels Sprouts, empty flower baskets and broken King you go.

wet hair and oilcloth

“After awhile you learn the subtle difference

between holding a hand and chaining a soul.

And you learn that love doesn't mean security,

And you begin to learn that kisses aren't contracts

And presents aren't promises.

And you begin to accept your defeats with you head up and your eyes open.

With the grace of maturity, not the grief of a child.

And you learn to build all your roads on

Today because tomorrow's ground is too uncertain for plans,

And futures have a way of falling down in mid-flight.

After awhile you learn that even sunshine burns if you get too much.

So you plant your own garden and decorate your own soul,

Instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.

And you learn that you really can endure...

That you really are strong

And that you really do have worth.

And you learn and learn and learn ....

With every goodbye you learn.”

(Veronica A. Shoffstall)