Obsession

I am a gardener. It is a fairly recent avocation in my life, yet apparently something I have always been. My memories tend to be tied up with plants. My memories of my paternal grandmother are mixed up with money plant, african violets, christmas cactus and begonia, the “french” lilac in the front yard and the regular ones that lined the drive. They were full of bees, but I used to go sit under them anyway, and just breathe. There were peonies over there, always full of ants, and several varieties of apple trees, the names of which I still recall. In front of the house there was a line of tall, brilliantly red poppies. “Opium poppy” Grandma used to call it, in a wide-eyed, slightly breathless way that betrayed some excitement at the¬†scandelousness of that admission.

When I reminess with my father about friends they used to see, he will tell some story about them and I will, in all probability say, “Oh yeah. I remember them. They had a such and so plant by the front door.” He tends to look blank and say something non-committal, “I suppose they could have.” being one of his favorite remarks. During one such recent conversation my mother mentioned a woman, now dead for many years, whom they used to visit when I was quite a small child. I actually remembered visiting her house quite vividly and nattered on for some time about a small, ferny ground cover (Leptinella squalida, I now know) that was prickly to lay on, but very pretty. I finally ran down, realizing that they were both staring at me in mild surprise. Later, while talking about a neighbor or years past, when my memory of her turned out to be of the fuchsias she grew in her greenhouse, rather than of her amazing cakes or even of the milk we bought from her. neither of them batted an eye. My obsession is by now so obvious it no longer inspires surprise.

Oddly, my obsession went largely unnoticed for the first 45 years of my life, despite the fact that I could pick the variety of “Snowball Bush” (Viburnum macrocephalum) that grew next to the chimney of the house we lived in when I was in grade school, out of a line up of similar plants. Even I did not realize the depth of my fascination with vegetation until I moved into the house with the naked yard. Not one tree, flower or bush marred the patchy expanse of grass. Nothing. Some pots were purchased and soon a few flowers graced the landscape. Then came tomatoes in five gallon buckets. A small flower bed spanning the front of the house was next. Abruptly, nearly ten years had passed and there were five largish flower beds, a fair-sized vegetable and herb garden and a deep flower border that wrapped three sides of the house. Random small trees and bushes dotted the lawn. Cultivation of a “native plant garden” had commenced in the patch of woods adjacent to the house. Besotted plant obsession appeared to hold full sway.

Then circumstances intervened and I moved away and left it. I miss it like you would miss a friend, or maybe a beloved pet. And yet, it is spring. I find I have new plans. I have found a patch of land that has been ignored. It is near a pond that is pining for renovation. I find myself rifling through my ancient seed collection. Flats of things are busy germinating. I am old, and hurt and achingly bereft of my garden. But it is spring and I can feel the rhythm of the earth rising through my soles, raising my soul.

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