To plant a garden is to outwardly show you trust the future; you’ll be around to see those seeds sprout, those plants grow. You invest in soil, fertilizer, seeds, plants, and tools to form the garden of your dreams. It’s a display of the colors of your heart, the patterns of your mind, the creative force of your soul.
Growing up on a farm, we had acres of vegetable garden. There were too many rows of green beans, tomatoes so plentiful that sometimes they rotted on the vines, potatoes lying in wait in the dark, loamy soil. As a girl, I most liked harvesting those potatoes. Daddy would dig them up and me and my sisters would go along and find them– like brown Easter eggs just peaking out.
We also had a variety of flowers; gladiolas, zinnias, and sunflowers by the clothes line, were the ones I most remember. I liked working in the flowers more than the vegetables–which was typical of my non-pragmatic, artistic nature. I even planted a row of gladiolas by our playhouse. That love of flowers has stayed with me. While I’ve attempted growing tomatoes and some herbs, I’ve mostly continued with flower gardening.
Now that I have my townhouse and have fenced in my small backyard, my focus has been on planting flowers. Over the years, my brother-in-law, Winslow has helped me in every garden I’ve ever planted. He grew up on a farm ‘Down East’ in the coastal region of North Carolina. They had acres of tobacco and other crops, and like our family, lots of vegetables and some flowers. His love of growing things led him to complete a Master Gardener class. I go to Winslow with every gardening question; so do many others.
As a girl, I always wanted an older brother. When my sister, Harriet married Winslow in 1976, that wish came true. Over our years of working in my yard, we’ve had many deep conversations. Talking is easier when we’re putting plants in the ground, cleaning out underbrush, or spreading new topsoil. We’ve discussed books we’re reading, our Christian faith, and conflicts in our work setting–back before retirement. He’s listened to my struggles going through divorce, and some of my experiences in dating as a Baby boomer. We’ve shared the challenges of being parents, and the joys of being grandparents. If there were a picture in the dictionary to illustrate the term ‘salt of the Earth‘ it would be Winslow’s photo 🙂
Over the past few weeks, Winslow has helped me, spending most Mondays trying to transform my patio space into the garden I envision. We’ve made trips to Home Depot in his truck–which is always special for me. It reminds me of when I was little and rode with Daddy in his green Chevrolet truck to the FCX–Farmers’ Cooperative Exchange to get feed for our animals. Instead, we’ve had loads of gravel, pavers, stepping stones, soil, and edging. We’ve taken lunch breaks and tried out restaurants that are new to me in Apex.
Winslow is seventy-two, four years older than me. He’s had health challenges over the past few years. During that time, he’s lost cousins and friends who were in their sixties and seventies. As I grow closer to being seventy, now just two years away, I anticipate that the entry into that new decade will be significant. I make an effort not to limit myself by age, not to accept negative stereotypes of growing older. When I turned sixty, I did feel more of a sense of time closing in, of having been an era and time running out. It felt like there was suddenly a limit to the vast future that I’d formerly felt was ahead of me. It did, in fact, feel like time passed more quickly. How much more will I feel this when I turn seventy?
I went by to visit Winslow and Harriet last week. I ‘happened to drop in’ at dinnertime and, Harriet–who loves to share food, like Mama, asked me to join them. It was good to be with family, having a meal together as I eat many dinners by myself. Afterwards, Winslow wanted me to see his garden.
We walked around their yard and he showed me raised beds of vegetables, apple trees, and once dying plants he’d rescued from clearance bins and made healthy. He pointed out his gorgeous purple clematis vine that grew up the pole of the bluebird house. He checked inside and found the mother on the nest–finally undisturbed by their neighbor’s cat. All around that corner of the yard was a feast of fragrance and colors, blooming roses, irises, and azaleas.
Winslow pointed out trees that had been planted the same years as his two grandsons were born. The tree I liked the most was the river birch. I loved the bark that was such a rough and interesting texture–the three main limbs with variations in the pattern of the bark, highlighted by dapples of sunlight.
“I planted that one eight years ago.” he said. “It’s become the centerpiece of the yard.”
I’d never noticed that tree like I did that day. It had such a beautiful lacy canopy of green foliage. With that contrasts in the bark it seemed like the perfect tree to highlight that space.
We walked over to another section of garden by the fence. I noticed an exotic-looking holly plant, loaded down with red berries and thick branches that turned like they were doing a dance. Neighbors passed by walking their dog and commented on how his gardening made their path more beautiful. Winslow had built a retaining wall that spanned part of the sidewalk where many cars and walkers could see the prolific plants. He planned to eventually add more feet of garden.
When asking him for advice about what size plants to buy for my garden, he gave me his perspective as a seventy-two year old.
“”I used to buy smaller plants and wait on them to get up in size,” he said. “But now, I buy bigger plants. Don’t know how long I’ll be around to watch them grow.”
He’s been impacted by recently seeing a cousin who is seriously ill. Like other men I know, he’ll make the comment that he’s “already lived past his father.”
While I get the reality of growing older, of examples all around of people developing health problems, there are other people who have not experienced that.
Years ago when I traveled to Martha’s Vineyard, I visited the Polly Hill Arboretum. It was a way to fill a quiet Sunday afternoon but it became much more. I’d stumbled upon a “horticultural and botanical landmark developed by the legendary horticulturist Polly Hill (1907-2007)” She started planting those seeds when she was fifty years old. “She eventually brought 20 acres under cultivation while preserving 40 additional acres of woodland.” (quoted information from pollyhillarboretum)
Polly Hill lived until she was 100 years old. It hit me that she had no idea when she started that she’d only lived half her life at that point. She could have said she was “too old” to get started, especially with planting seeds. But instead, she just planted one pack of seeds after another and didn’t stop.
Who can know what is ahead?
A year ago, I didn’t foresee having an area in which I would be planting. I thought the housing market was going to stay closed to me. I would be content to grow flowers in pots on my apartment patio. I couldn’t look ahead and see the grace of finding a townhouse– one that’s an end unit with space I could fence in and make into my own little sanctuary. When I put plants in the ground, I don’t know how long I’ll live here and enjoy them; I don’t have to.
All I know, is that tomorrow, on another Monday, Winslow and I are planning to work in my garden. He’ll bring a load of gravel in his truck and I’ll try to restore my small morning glory plants that were flooded by a recent deluge of water and hail. We’ll create a place for me to enjoy late evenings and grilling with my family and friends. I’ll have a place to write at my patio table– watching the sparrows at the feeder, or perhaps, bluebirds if they ever decide to take up residence in the house I’ve provided.
My hope for you is that you’ll plant a garden– of whatever type, and the days ahead will find you nourishing the things that bring you joy.
Best to you all in the week ahead,
11 thoughts on “To Plant a Garden”
So insightful & meaningful. Thank you
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Thanks so much, Judy. You really understand the significance of planting, being one with the Earth when you’re making a garden.
Thanks for reading and commenting.
Best to you,
Thanks Connie, you always make me think about life and living. I will be 84 next month and looking forward to seeing a lot more things growing.
Thanks for sharing.
Thanks so much for reading and for your kind response. You are amazing— whatever your number. I hope you have many more happy years of watching things grow–just as you encourage growth in others—like me!!
You have hit another Emotion Button, and I just loved it. The opener was the kicker. All that you wrote was so deep, concise, and full of insight. That was a gem of your talent. Life is a “crap shoot”, with all the variables that will pop up and change every thought you had on any subject. Winslow has the right attitude towards aging. I remember my days when I reached 47, the age I lost my Father. Now at 77, I look forward to the many years that are ahead of me. My goal is to be able to count my 70’s as my midyears. I would love to start a garden but the yard is not designed to be a showplace for flowers. There is plenty of patio for pots of Tomatoes. And so be it. Love and Blessings to you, John,
What a great compliment that what I wrote was “deep, concise, and full of insight.” Thank you!
I think whatever type of garden you have–and tomatoes in pots are great–you feel a closeness to the natural rhythm of life. To watch them grow and then harvest those tasty tomatoes is a joy.
You have the right attitude of seeing your seventies as “midyears”. Our way of looking at life has more to do with the quality of our years than the actual numbers.
Best to you with a plentiful harvest, this year, and all the years to come!
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Thanks so much for sharing Connie. I need to get this back into my life. It brought me peace to plant and then see the beautiful flowers or veggies grow. I am so happy that you will be enjoying your garden.
I was just thinking of you recently and wondering how you’re doing; no doubt, you’re working very hard.
Yes, it would be nice for you to have this in your life that brought you peace. You give so much that you need good things returning to you.
thanks for reading and responding, Terry.
Best to you,
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This is a beautiful post Connie, thank you x
Thanks so much for reading and for your compliment, Julia.
Best to you however you’re enjoying this Spring!
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