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Notes from the Garden

Spring is here. The tulips are pushing their way up to the surface, the dianthus and candytuft are in bloom and the Pride of Madeira has sent up its spikes, ready to give another dazzling display of purple splendor. Spending Sunday afternoons in my garden allows me to reconnect to the little girl who likes to play in the dirt, talk to the flowers and believes she can change the landscape of her world.

I don’t have much experience gardening; I read a little, I plant lots of things and I note my mistakes from year to year. There are several kinds of mistakes you can make in your choice of plants. Sometimes you engage in magical thinking, “I know I live in southern California but I really love English cottage style so I’ll just see if I can make these plants grow here.” Sometimes plants surprise you, and grow where all reason says they shouldn’t. But not most of the time. Some mistakes are self-correcting – the plants simply don’t survive. Some mistakes involve little tiny plants that grow into behemoth bushes that take up half your garden. You have to decide whether to accept the plant at that size (embracing it in all its glory), remove it entirely or attempt to prune the behemoth back to its allotted corner of the garden (knowing full well you will have to whack it back again and again – assuming it survives your pruning). For some reason I can’t quite fathom, this phenomenon reminds me very much of marriage.

Most choices are correctable. But just as in life, there are some choices you make that are forever going to plague you. Putting a horsetail plant in the ground (and not in a container) before you realize it’s an invasive species means you will forever be pulling stray shoots out of random places in the garden. You could try to remove the plant altogether, but the damage is done, and you’ll never totally be free of it. Some choices are just like that.

garden spring2

Your garden doesn’t exist on an island. You are forever connected to your neighbors through the dandelions that spread like wildfire from one lawn to the next. There is always that one rundown house, with all the weeds growing in it, that you curse when you see the same weeds pop up in your own garden. “If only they would take a little care with their yard,” you think. But as you sit in the dirt pulling out the weeds, and listen to the bees peacefully pollinating your lavender, you have leisure to ponder the reasons behind your neighbor’s neglect. Perhaps they are older, and too poor to hire someone to care for their yard. Maybe they have so many children they are overwhelmed and can’t be bothered with a few dandelions. Or maybe they are just very, very sad, and can’t see the point of pulling out weeds that will only come back again and again. You wonder if you should offer to help. You wonder if that would be weird. You wonder that you live in a time and place where you don’t know your neighbors well. You resolve to walk your dog a little slower past their house next time, just in case they are out and you can say hello.

It’s spring in the garden.

madeira spikes

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