Memorials and Flowers

iris and peonyMemorial Day used to mark the start of the gardening season in Ann Arbor, the date after which you could be reasonably certain your new plants would not be killed by frost. Then the garden catalogs began to arrive with new information. This, they said up front, was not a political statement and they did not want to get into any political arguments. It was just their duty, as provider of my seeds and plants, to notify me that my Ann Arbor garden was no longer in Zone 5. It was now Zone 6a. I could start planting on Mother’s Day.

As far as I could tell, this did not initiate any angry letters cancelling orders or detailing conspiracy theories. When your hands are in the dirt things get real: do you want to be the person who shouts the loudest, or do you want to start eating tomatoes and cutting zinnias for bouquets as soon as possible? Expertise may be out of fashion elsewhere, but in the garden it is always in style.

bouquetFlowers carry so many associations. They fill the bride’s hand, grace the table on Mother’s Day, wreathe headstones on Memorial Day, and have done these jobs for a long time. Fossil pollen has been found in burials from thousands of years ago; if we had wedding fossils I’d bet there would be flower remnants there, too. Flowers, fragile and short-lived, do a lot of emotional heavy lifting for us. Speaking for us in difficult situations, they are also traditionally used in apologies and fence-mending, activities that always seem to be in short supply right when we need them most. So, grow some flowers. Give them to someone you’ve had a disagreement with. Start a dialogue.

Mother’s Day

I am at my daughter’s house for Mother’s Day. She has given over her office to be my guest room and she has put a vase of flowers in it for me. This is especially kind of her because she knows she is no longer the main attraction for my visits here. The main attraction now is her little boy, Julius, not quite four years old.

Yesterday we planted things in the small front garden of their city house. We moved j watering 2a fescue. We took out a flowering shrub that needed more space than it could have. We put in some compact lavenders. We nestled a few succulents around the stepping stones. Julius handled the watering, pulling the curly hose along, pointing its spray nozzle at the new plants, and bending down to them with a big smile.

“They’re singing!” he said.

Why wouldn’t they be, with this small gardener catering to their thirst. He sings too, wet mud on his hands, spitting and humming to imitate the sound of bumblebees, processing life through the discovering eyes of new acquaintance.

But to himself he is not new. He is constant, and complete. He defends this self of his against attempts by surrounding adults to redefine it, even as he adjusts to new circumstances, which come at him constantly. He knows who he is. And if he asked I could tell him that just as he doesn’t feel young, I don’t feel old. You get bigger, older, wiser, and more experienced, but it’s still you underneath, acquiring all these traits. Some of them layer on more gracefully than others, and there are so many to acquire. I think we all know people who never manage it.

On Mother’s Day morning, sharing handmade gifts, we check the garden for signs of progress. The transplants all look happy.

The Wind in the Daffodils

The yard is awash in daffodils. After a long, late autumn and a very late spring, here they are flaunting their variety and splendor, ruffled and bumptious, nosing their trumpets in each other’s faces like cheerful gossips. It’s warm enough to open the window, and the scent of the daffodils blows in.

daffsDaffodils are the clear choice for spring bulbs here, because we have lots of deer. Deer eat tulips, not daffodils. You could plant tulips anyway, curse the deer as the tulips are beheaded and trampled, and join the vast army of trolls contributing only negative comments to the social enterprise. Catastrophizing. Getting so pumped from your own outrage that you lose sight of any flowers, at all.

There is so much of that around today, and it is so dispiriting to see us all blasting accusations at each other, without regard to how the plain truth looks different to a deer than to a gardener. Channel your outrage, and don’t let it derail your investigation into true causes. Lots of things can go wrong in a garden. Be sure you’re fixing the right problem.

Then you can dig out the failures, and put in something bright and healthy that will succeed.