Gardening Picture

Since I moved to Southern California, I have been astounded by the small amount of time people spend outside. This is especially puzzling given that we have one of the most perfect climates on earth. It is a gardener’s dream.

Why not enjoy this marvelous weather and the beautiful vegetation it allows? I want to appreciate it every time I step out of my house. Having grown up in Minneapolis, the prospect of sipping morning coffee out on the patio amid blooming flowers year round makes this place seem like paradise. I want a yard that invites this. And now I have one. But this wasn’t the case last spring.

Since we got a dog a few years before, our yard had become a bit of an embarrassment.

I didn’t expect the Gardens of Versailles. But I needed something more than this dry dirt wasteland … whose only signs of life were random patches of grass, weeds and dog poop, decorated by naked wicker furniture whose cushions were long before devoured by Winston, our big yellow dog.

Even Winston went out there as little as possible. When the poor pooch doesn’t want to go out in the yard it’s time to take some action. So step-by-step, my husband and I started the dreaded project of rehabilitating the yard.

First came the removal of several trees that were so misplaced and overgrown that they threatened to uproot not only the patio, but the house’s actual foundation. Then came the laying of sod. After some tiring weeks of watering by hose, we fixed the built-in sprinklers. Yeah! I knew my time was worth more than functioning as a human irrigation system. The grass was taking root and staying green. Before long it was looking almost respectable.

That’s when I got invested in creating beauty.

I began pulling out the weeds in the many overgrown flowerbeds lining the periphery of the entire property. What an amazing workout – I decided an afternoon of gardening was no easier than a five mile run. The results were immediate and visible – a parcel of earth ready to be cultivated. I found muscles I didn’t know I had; it was such satisfying labor.

I went to sleep visualizing my budding oasis. I imagined the glory of an array of plants and flowers. I daydreamed about transforming the existing but long neglected citrus trees, and considered even putting in a vegetable garden. Oh the possibilities! My dinner table would be adorned with freshly cut day lillies. I could cook delicious meals from tender fruits, savory herbs, and heart healthy vegetables harvested from my own backyard. This was part of the California dream I anticipated when we moved here years ago.

The momentum of getting started, combined with the dramatic results of making the most basic changes, fueled my energy to create something wonderful. That’s when the fun started.

I found myself researching the best options for our climate, soil, and light conditions. I discovered the wonder of Pinterest. The Internet served as my endless source of botanical brilliance. Visiting garden stores became play. (And I won’t lie, a bit expensive). Digging my hands deep into the cool soil felt soul nourishing. I was as happy as a barefoot child in summer. Even pulling out the clumps of weeds provided a grueling satisfaction.

Then came the planting.

The tender placing of each little life in the ground and watching it grow was captivating. I included flowers for big showy color like bougainvillea, mandevilla, impatiens, geraniums, and petunias. Between the perennials and the bulbs like daffodils, calla lilly, and tulips I could expect year-round splendor. The borders would become lush with sweet white alyssum and green ivy. Even the shady spaces below the lemon, orange, peach, and lime trees would eventually be covered in periwinkle. I went wild with succulents and put mixed varieties in various pots.

I was proud to greet every visitor to my fertile sanctuary. I found myself asking a friend, “Won’t you come and have tea in my garden?” Making unexpected spots pretty through use of contrasting and complimentary form, color, and texture made me feel like an artist.

The hours flew by – I was in “flow”.

Each day’s pleasure was only softened by bits of grief I felt when one of my little ones didn’t make it. Yet, even this loss was overcome by learning what change I must make in my method. I also discovered the process of propagation. Now I was generating my own plants rather than merely buying them. This suited my thrifty nature.

My husband built an impressive raised vegetable garden producing a bounty of tomatoes, lettuce, carrots, spinach, kale and peppers. I watched him oversee his miniature crop with the commitment and concern of a Midwest farmer.

Every morning I woke up eager to go out and weed, water, and tend. I sprung out of bed on a mission. At the end of the day I strolled around it and let myself pause for a while – simply to be present and appreciate. With nothing short of love, I watched it flourish. Sitting in my garden I felt fulfilled and connected.

Carefully observing any signs of too much water, not enough light, or the threat of a weed satisfied my need to take care of something. I wasn’t just a gardener, I was a caretaker and protector – a giver of life. Not unlike being a mom. How surprising that tending and toiling in my humble little yard taught me how essential it is for me to invest in reproducing and sustaining life. It is primal.

Gardening made me realize my powerful need for an outlet for my nurturing instinct at this “empty nest” time in my life. Since the children went off to college and became busy with their own lives, supporting the development of other living things satisfies a deep desire. Cultivating my garden provided that. This is grace.

 

 

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