Helen Mirren said, “Gardening is learning, learning, learning. That’s the fun of them. You’re always learning.” She’s one smart lady. For the last several weeks, my best friend and I have planted and watered, weeded and fertilized, and spent countless hours standing and admiring a garden we started in both the front and back yards of his new home. We watch weather forecasts every day to see whether nature will water our flowers and vegetables and herbs. We have googled whether to plant thyme and parsley in shade or sun. We’ve read about how to harvest the leaves from our pineapple sage and Mexican terragon. We made a standing planter out of an old pallet (which is the only thing I’ve ever made that actually looked like the picture on Pinterest). And once all these herbs began to bloom, we infused the leaves in varying combinations into extra virgin olive oil and bottled them in clear decanters. Lined up on the kitchen counter, they look like a spread in a magazine. Labels I printed in elaborate script read ‘Sweet Basil and Garlic Infused Oil’ and ‘Rosemary and Lemon Thyme Infused Oil’ and many other combinations, each smelling as delicious as the one before. I am fiercely proud of those bottles and all they represent.
We start each day, in the quiet of the morning, slowly walking from the front yard to the back, checking on the progress of each plant. We squat and inspect leaves for bugs and other pests. We feel the earth to check for dry soil. We point and say “That hosta sure has taken off!” or “Maybe that phlox needs more sun?” We wager whether the new batch of daylilies will have orange or purple blooms. When the first tomato appeared on the vine, we congratulated each other and took a dozen pictures. When we dropped beans into the soil, we barely blinked before they were shooting up and out. I even shared pictures of their amazing progress at work. My coworkers are patient and never once laughed at me – at least not to my face.
We end each day tracing the same path in reverse, walking from back to front with garden hose in tow. And as the sun sets, we talk quietly about our day and our plans for future days and years. Sometimes we just stand next to each other and listen to the dusk. Those are my favorite hours – our garden hours.
An old Chinese proverb goes like this: “If you would witness life, bury a seed and open your eyes.” So true. From planting to blooming, my best friend and I take great care to choose the right location and the richest soil. But no matter the steps we take, in the end, nature is in control. Some seeds outperform our wildest expectations, and some seeds just don’t “take.” We both mourned the orange impatiens that withered while the surrounding ones bloomed, wondering what we could have done differently.
And just this morning, a finger creeped out of one of the pepper plants and wrapped itself around the wire trellis. It looked so fragile, covered in dew and clinging for dear life. “Plants are just like us. They need something to hang onto,” I said. My best friend probably rolled his eyes, but as I was walking away I looked back and saw him bend down and take a picture for himself.
I read a study done at Oxford which said that plants may be deaf, but they can feel, see, smell and remember. So all the encouraging words I’ve spoken to the pink petunias who were struggling were all for nothing? But they smell and see? No explanation was given for exactly how plants accomplish all these things, but I’m smart enough to know that there’s a lot I don’t know. So I’m left to wonder if I were to be absent from our garden for a few days, would my night sky petunias miss me? Do the orange salvia planted next to the red birdhouse feel it when I run my fingers over their blooms? How lovely to think they might.
Because we are gardeners now, we have learned how to build planter boxes and elevated gardens. We’ve built birdhouses – three in all. Our next project, we’ve decided, is to build a bench with a planter attached to each end. It’s a big undertaking, but I can picture it already…. red cushions with a copper stripe, a rich mahogany stain on the wood, and dinner plate daisies in both planters. And I will spend many hours there reading and watching the butterflies and hummingbirds. Because, as Cicero says, “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.”
Audrey Hepburn wrote, “To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” And I do believe. I believe in tomatoes we’ll grow and use in our Sunday morning BLT’s. I believe in Christmas baskets filled with homemade oils and jellies and salsa that we grew and brewed ourselves. I believe in flowers in vases on dining room tables that we picked for each other. And I believe in next year and the year after and all the years ahead that will bring blooms and food and countless garden hours.