Gardening is in my blood. My dad worked a lot when I was little, but he took time to manage all our landscaping, the flower beds, and small vegetable gardens. I loved going with him to choose seedlings or promising seed packets, and until I could resist the call of my swingset no longer, I would work alongside him to pull weeds and water plants. When I was in high school, he put in an herb garden where the old peach tree used to be. After I moved away, we would still talk about the different plants he had growing, and I was always invited to come “smell my herbs” when I was home.
I’ve been gone for 16 years, but Dad’s influence remains. Two years ago when we bought our first home, I immediately got to work planning flower beds. This year, our third Spring in the house, we put in a small vegetable garden and a raspberry patch. Like Dad, I always want to know the names of the plants I see. I want to know what kind of trees grow in the playgrounds we visit. I look up the names and stats of the flowers I notice doing well around town. I’m always dreaming of the next additions to my gardens. We are nearing completion of a little fenced garden plot for my daughter to call her own. Clearly a direct descendant of her mother and Poppy, Hazel Belle cannot wait to start planting her own little dreams and invite us to name that plant and smell those herbs.
I think people’s gardens reflect their lives. When I see a perfectly manicured, intentionally planned yard with stakes on every droopy dahlia in the Summer and rhododendrons with long, smooth bark legs, no wilted blossoms in sight, I make guesses as to what kind of gardener lives there. He or she probably doesn’t have young children at home any more. The carpet inside the house is vacuumed frequently- maybe even using those deodorizing pearls I used to wish we would buy. He or she would probably get pretty upset if my four children bounded onto the lawn while getting carried away on an evening walk. The gardens I most love to see are the ones that are spilling out onto the sidewalks. Beautiful plants are climbing up the telephone poles and fence posts. I see handmade garden art lovingly tucked in: a birdhouse made by a preschooler, a stepping stone with handprints. Things aren’t perfect but they are thriving. Usually gardens like these are full of food, and I respect that. My very favorite ones, though, have both edible plants and lots of gorgeous flowers. Flowers that promise no edible fruit but inspire me to stop and breathe and admire. These are the gardeners that say, “Come grab some seeds if you like those!” and “Bring the kids to pick some sugar peas.” I love those people, and they help me. So far, most that I know no longer have young children at home, but they remember what it’s like.
After my children go to bed each night, I walk out front to water my garden and see how everything is doing. Just like with the kids, I am continually aware of new developments. I wait excitedly for the buds, and then I wait for the buds to open. I watch the blossoms fade and collect seeds when it is time. I let some of the weeds grow to see if they will be interesting. I watch the bulb shoots crack through the dirt. I know where to find the slugs and snails and throw them in the street but only when my children aren’t looking because snailicide really upsets them. I can never keep it weeded. There are rose bushes that I know need proper pruning, but I don’t have time to figure it out. I have big dreams for some of the plants like my raspberry canes and the lavenders. This year I was able to steam distill some of the lavender oil, and I’m certain my sleep is sweeter when I drift off breathing the scent of my beloved purple beauties.
I hope that my garden speaks about me. I hope it shows my love for it and my enthusiasm for every single plant that is there. Even the weeds say something: “She is busy, but she doesn’t let us win.” I hope my gnome and my glass mushrooms reveal affection for fairy stories and that the rusted iron cut-outs profess my love for local artists. This Summer my massive zucchinis testify to the wild, amazing propensity for fruit and growth that happens even with distracted and fumbling, but hopeful, care. I am proud of my garden, and I love to hear people’s compliments. But, I always answer with something self-deprecating. I don’t want to come off like I think I’m special because I know what I don’t know. I tell myself that the list is long, and I judge myself by my oversight and ignorance rather than rejoicing in what I have done well. And what have I done well? I have started. I have tried, and I keep trying to grow things because they are beautiful. I know that I'm glad for the time I put in. I am reaping experience with every poor, failed planting I have to remove. I thank God over happy accidents and then garden with more purpose the next season.
I see myself in my garden. I see my family: the shape we hold and the seasons we go through. We all grow at our own pace, and the child that I worry about one week may be in full flower the next. We Riberas are a bit wild. We spill out of our bounds. I think that my children and I need more pruning than some other people. I particularly identify with the yellow roses. They always have aphids crawling on them. The leaves have that white, powdery mold. But she puts out blooms like nobody’s business! Every now and then I have to prune a bit but mostly I’m just happy for the poor thing that she is still living life and growing beauty with all that she is up against.
I garden between my father’s time and my daughter’s. I delight to be the chapter between them, and I think of my small place in a big story as I dig, choose, prune, weed, watch, and breathe. My life buzzes with action like the bees on my lavender. There is just so much to do, and so my garden at times lies neglected because my family does not. Someday I’ll wear a floppy hat and invite the neighbor kids to eat raspberries while I smile warmly at their mother and tell her to hang in there. Garden and gardener both grow.