My first call to the earth was when I was 22. I received my first tarot card reading and was told that I was the Queen of Harvest, and that I would be most at home with my hands in the dirt. I was in awe of this comment, especially since I had grown up hating most outdoor activities, with the exception of swimming. But deep spirituality had been calling for some time, and this was one such moment. Everything about the reading was new and incensed and vibrant. I was having my cards read by a woman who was older than I, who worshipped the Goddess, and was telling me much about me. It was a me that was clearly far from the present, but none the less, every fiber of my 22 year old being knew that everything she was telling me was innately right. I felt open to the experience that awaited, even though it felt more than a ways off.
Over the years my love of nature grew, first through a love of hiking, something I discovered in my early 20’s, to planting my first garden at age 29. I remember being so insanely excited over the little 4 X 2 plot of shady earth that edged the front porch of the very first dump of a house Paul and I rented after we were married. I went straight for color, not even considering needs like sun or water, let alone how big each plant might become. I planted a rhododendron in that spot, and if you aren’t familiar with rhododendrons, they can grow to be huge. But such fun! To pick flowers simply because they are beautiful, and look beautiful together, and make your house look beautiful, and even yourself look beautiful, is just the best feeling.
And for awhile the beauty remained. Then slowly my ignorance caught up, first with a few flowers looking quite raggedy, then the clincher: Paul and I went away on vacation. Not having planned for anyone to come and water my form over function garden, everything was dead by the time I returned.
But the spark was spurned, and while it would be a few more years before I got my own garden again, the feeling remained, waiting quietly, for life to unfold.
After 2 years of apartment living, Paul and I rented a house, with a largish backyard full of rose bushes, dahlias and gladiolas. I added a few more plants while I was there, and even landscaped a dry, bare plot that had been along the side of the house for I don’t know how long. An old woman had gone to a nursing home, and the roses and dahlias and gladiolas were hers. This time, I was ready to learn. I read as much about growing plants in my region as I could, had a more experienced garden friend let me pick her brain from time to time, and let the rest flow. I had good results. By the time Paul and I bought our own house 1 year later, the place was lush with color. Lucky next house buyers!
When we bought our house, the backyard was completely dated. Two giant laundry Y’s flanked the front and back yard, there was more concrete than earth, and a giant oval of what I would soon learn was invasive crabgrass sat in the middle of everything. There was also a cool building back there, complete with French doors, wood walls and about a million outlets. It quickly became storage for odds and ends, as well as a place to keep my garden equipment.
Louis was 9 months old when we finally decided to do something. We found an unlicensed gardener, who for about half of what we would’ve paid someone legal, ripped up the concrete, removed the laundry Y’s, in addition to a metal shed that sat on its own concrete foundation (the former owners just loved concrete), and then proceeded to build us a new fence and a beautiful arbor. Irrigation pipes got laid underneath newly created plots of earth, which flanked the yard on all sides but one, including a brand new sprinkler system, to feed the awful crab grass we decided to leave (no one at the time informed me just how horribly invasive crab grass can be). An old patio lay underneath the new arbor, having gotten reduced in size to allow for the garden plots. It was quite a site, and it smelled great. And it sang my name.
I got down and dirty. I spent hours and hours at our local nurseries, pouring over selections that involved any number of color, texture and greenery combination, this time taking great care to consider things like sun and water, and whether or not plants died back vs. stayed green all winter. After planting (I kid you not), 20 plants in the backyard and 15 plants in the front yard, I laid out all the irrigation tubing myself, which while I was prideful at the time, really sucks and I will never do it again. Shortly after this we had both sets of parents coming into town for Louis’ baby naming. The next day we had a party in our backyard. It was a site to behold.
The garden was beautiful. Colors melted into one another, and on a sunny day there was just enough shade under the arbor to relax, yet if you wanted sun, the crabby grass section provided the warmth. We got butterflies and hummingbirds. I was in love.
But not everything worked, something you don’t know until you can see how a plant truly performs, and several plants had to come and go. Some things got too big for the area they were in, and others just died. We still had a mighty good time in the yard, and had many a picnic or play date back there with other families. As far as furniture went, we had a table and 6 chairs. The rest of the time we used beach chairs or lay out on blankets. The studio continued to be used as a storage/dumping ground. It was fun.
Then Aiden came along, and the period of “extreme challenge” (enlightened description)/ “living hell” (highly stressed mama description) came along, and much like our personal lives, the garden began to deteriorate.
Not hard to guess, I couldn’t keep on top of basic maintenance, and from time to time I would call someone to come and help with the everything is too big/overgrown/full of weeds situation. “It’s too much garden for me,” I thought to myself. What was I thinking?
But still, it continued to call my name, and despite how much time and energy went into keeping Louis from getting Aiden, the pull was strong. Finally, there was a little relief in sight. My in-laws were going to help us add on a small addition. Our house was a 2-bedroom 1 bathroom, 990 square foot house. We were going to add on 1 small bedroom and bathroom. We would lose our garage, but we didn’t care. Every day was truly wild and crazy. Having more options of places to separate the kids and ourselves, would hopefully help.
The contractors trashed the studio, and the yard. The tried their best to be mindful of the plants, but stuff happened. The addition was beautiful however, and after 1.5 years of sleeping on the couch and the floor (each of the kids had the 2 bedrooms), Paul and I felt like we were in heaven.
From there things only grew with time. Personally, I was at my lowest, coming close to a nervous breakdown and going on medication just shortly after the addition was completed. But spring was just around the corner, and much to my amazement, much of the garden was intact. A vine I thought had been crushed was weaving its way along the same path it did every year, and plants were starting to bloom. I spent the next bunch of weeks pruning and weeding and taking out/putting in new plants. Again, the garden sang my name, and again, I was in bliss. That following summer everything looked beautiful and lush, and with the purchase of a fire pit, a family tradition was born. The following fall I cleaned out the studio, and the following February I started my women’s group, which now meets in that space. Mixed in there was continuing to battle with depression, and the continued battles between the boys, although these were starting to decrease.
This last year has been incredibly spiritual, both in and out of the garden. With the advent of completing my memoir and following some very serious pulls from deep within, the garden itself, I realize, is a direct reflection of this opening. Part of me has known this all along. I love to plant, and feed, and nurture these beautiful living entities that create such beauty for me. I love watering and cutting back old blooms and watching new tiny buds appear, ready to take their place. I love pruning things back, cutting things up, and throwing it all back into the garden, in some hidden spot. I love when fall approaches and descends into winter. This is the time of pruning and pulling and watching things die back. I love this life cycle and feel myself thrive on the energy that has been created here. Last spring, I convinced my husband to let me put the finishing touches on the backyard (it was actually my birthday present), with the installation of a beautiful new flagstone patio and new grass. The patio was made bigger, the dreaded crabgrass pulled and replaced (although I still battle it in some flower beds, and as a friend put it, I will be pulling it till I drop.)
I see amazing things all the time in my yard, no matter the season. That’s what’s great about living where I live; you get only rain and no snow, in the winter! While my garden is quiet in the winter, it is by no means lifeless. If anything, it’s the opposite. Check this out yourself:
I am outside in this yard, as much as possible. The past 2 summers I have spent writing in the backyard, with all the birds, butterflies and bugs around me. The earth is amazing.
I see connections everywhere in my yard, from the care I have given to tending this earth, to the vines that weave their way creating beautiful designs, to the hummingbirds and butterflies that are attracted to their flowers, and have set up shop in my yard because of them. They take my breath away every time I see them. I have seen countless hummingbirds, up close, and have even seen one groom itself (they can turn their entire head around as they do this!). As I stated in my last post, I have lain under the stars and been swooned by the moon amidst this garden. I love that both my sons can see me be so authentic with myself, and with life. So much to teach them about life, through this garden. My younger son, following my cue, calls the hummingbirds, “our friends.”
This garden is so incredibly healing for me; I do not think I would live very well without one ever again. I lose myself in the process, similar to how I am with yoga, although it is the Earths heartbeat I hear as I find myself on hands and knees, in the dirt. On my last birthday my children gave me as a gift, a goddess that came into my life when I was 29, long before I had kids. They didn’t know how special she was to me. Here she is:
This is Kwan Yin, the Goddess of Compassion. It is through her that I have found the calm I have needed to cultivate change within my family. As you can see, I keep a bowl of water with fresh flowers in front of her as much as possible. Water, I have been told, is part of the essence of compassion; washing away pain, allowing love to flow freely, allowing anger to fall away, it’s all flowing, like water. I think of Kwan Yin when I struggle with my family, especially my children.
This garden is every connection I have with every being on earth. As the garden mirrors me in its cycle of life, death and life again, so I become more open, more expansive, more willing to be present with myself, to be good to myself and others, and most importantly, to give to my children. I remember the years of being unhappy and bored and repressed, before I knew about the garden. It has grown from within, most certainly. I can’t wait to show you what it looks like in the summer!