I remember a time when it was commonplace for people with green thumbs to take visitors on a tour of their gardens. My Grandmother Minnie Bell was proud of the flowers and vegetables that graced her landscape and why not? She worked quite hard to cultivate the profusion of flora that lined the fences and burst forth in resplendent glory under her care. She regularly donned her khaki pants, work shirt, rubber boots and floppy hat to work the soil and pamper her plants. It was a routine as ever present as cooking meals and brushing her hair. As with preparing food, tending a garden was a joyful experience for her and so she never minded the amount of effort and folk knowledge that it took to create her masterpieces of nature.
My Grandma Mary turned her entire backyard into usable ground with pathways that took her from one plot to another. She was more inclined to plant fruit trees and perennials that provided sustenance and a bit of color without a great deal of effort. Still, her creation was like a lovely maze and always made me think of how the garden of Eden may have looked with its tempting fruit hanging above lilies and herbs.
I always got a kick out of visiting my friend Linda’s mom who seemed to experience as much joy from her gardening as my grandmothers did. Mrs. Daigle would proudly point out the many varieties of flowers and bushes that she often grew from cuttings, seeds, and gift plants from friends. She seemed to enjoy sharing her wealth of nature and I often left her home bearing a new variety to plant in my own yard. To this day her daughter has the same knack for growing things like a pro that her mother had and she also likes to share what she has. I have huge pots of fern from New Orleans from her and an orchid tree that she grew from seeds and brought to me during our period of COVID 19 isolation.
My thumb is not nearly as green as my grandmothers’ or Mrs. Daigle’s or Linda’s but I certainly caught the gardening bug from them. My love of puttering in the soil is so strong that I literally feel as though the mere act of planting activates the serotonin in my brain and makes me giddily happy. My rubber boots of the same kind that my grandmother wore are my favorite pair of shoes. The heavy rose gloves that protect my hands and arms are a prized possession. The hours melt away when I am working in my yard and I don’t even notice my achy bones and muscles until I have finished my tasks and realize that I have probably overextended myself.
The joy of gardening is real for me. It’s almost seems to be baked into my DNA and especially when spring rolls around it feels as though I can’t visit nurseries often enough. I am constantly looking for one more plot of land or big pot to plant some flowers or a new bush. I fill my calendar with reminders to fertilize my roses, azaleas, hibiscus and plumeria. I walk around the beds looking for weeds to pull or branches to trim. I smile at the birds that come into my yard and pray that the caterpillar on my bush will indeed turn into a monarch butterfly.
If someone were to give me a gift of a hundred dollars with the proviso that I spend every dime on something for myself I would probably visit a vendor of plants or save it for the Houston Garden Society Bulb Mart that has a gala event of plant heaven each October. Vendors bring amaryllis bulbs, native plants, citrus and fruit trees, compost and special soils. It is a celebration of gardening with kindred spirits smiling as they fill carts with the promise of lovely things to come. Some of the most wonderful things I have ever planted have originated from this market and none of it ever dies because it is perfectly suited for the conditions of soil and climate in our area.
Even now I find myself scanning my yard wondering if I might plant some flowers in an open space or bring in some compost and soil to create a new bed to expand the glory of my domain. My plants are like my children needing to be tended and loved. I talk to them and urge them to grow and enjoy my care. I pamper them and keep them warm when the temperatures become too cold. Sometimes the potted ones winter inside my house and my garage like snowbirds seeking refuge in the south.
My former home had a huge yard with ample room for a compost heap. I kept it on the side of my house and nobody complained because there were no members of an HOA deciding what I might not do. That dirt was rich and filled with juicy earthworms that kept it from clumping into clay like the native soil of this place. I’d use in to grow vegetables or to enhance the long line of azaleas that grew along the back of the property. I miss that composting area. I think I’d like to have one again but neighborhood rules preclude such a thing so I might be tempted to take the aforementioned one hundred dollar gift to invest in an enclosed compost drum. Like my both of my grandmothers did I would become a recycling queen by using the leftovers from my kitchen as eventual food for my yard.
Spring takes me to my garden and fills me with hope even in the direst of times. I think that growing things is one of the most wonderful things we humans have learned to do. There are few sights as beautiful to me as a lush landscape created by the hands of a dedicated individual. It can be a work of natural art. Spending time and money and care to make our world more beautiful is a wonderfully worthy task and it seems to me to be a panacea for many ills and areas producing plants do not have to be mowed. It is a lovely investment indeed.