After consulting with Kathy at Home Depot, the bushes that frame my front porch are azaleas, which turn out to be my grandfather’s favorite. The 75 degree sunny Saturday just past found me on my knees in my garden beds wrenching out weeds. Though I had spent hours carefully researching and buying plants for my first garden, it took twice that time to prepare the beds.
Weeds should be easily discernible, I had thought naively, until I uncovered hoards of bulbs beneath the dark soil. Having never seen my rented home in the light of spring days and witnessing the rebirth of the purple irises, I wondered if what I was pulling up was a perennial that had not yet broken earth. There were a few unknown, tiny pink flowers, after all, so I snapped some photographs on my smart phone and headed back to Home Depot to revisit Kathy. She had guided me through the selection process, offering advice on color combinations, warning me away from flowers that had already bloomed this season, and counseling me on the difference between mature and starter petunias. “Still here?” she asked, then her gaze moved to my dirty elbows. “No, you’re back again. How’s the garden coming?”
I showed her the images, and Kathy instantly stated, “Clovers. They are weeds. Yes, they do grow some pink flowers, but they will spread and take over.” She explained further, “Someone well-meaning once thought they would make for a nice seasonal plant at St. Patrick’s Day, and they would have if kept in little pots, but now the weeds are everywhere, stealing nutrients from the other plants in people’s neatly kept gardens.” After thanking her, I returned to my knees and kept digging.
With the warmth of the sun on my back and the cool of the soil under my calves came a peaceful pensive experience I had not expected. As I worked silently, I considered the countless clover bulbs I was eliminating all because some weeds were unassumingly passed off as seasonal plants. The two small garden beds I have were so inundated with the latent clover that it took six hours to uproot them. Clumps of grass and vines pulled up easily, but the bulbs were a few inches beneath the surface and it took tilling and digging and ripping to unearth them, not to mention energy and sweat.
When I first met my ex-husband, it was his music that captivated me. His powerful voice singing a Brian McKnight love song as his fingers played the piano keys took my breath away. At Thanksgiving a few years later, his aunt warned me that he was just a little boy playing house and that he wasn’t ready for marriage, but I had fallen for the little pink flowers. Given almost a decade to grow and multiply, every aspect of my life had been squelched of nutrients by this weed that I had not identified for what it was. He was a good man, but four years into our marriage, he was just a little boy playing house.
As I labored in the earth, uncovering chunks of bulbs, I imagined I was weeding out my own life in these garden beds. It’s harsh, I admit, to turn my ex-husband into a weed analogy, but honesty warrants consideration of callous conclusions. To the seasonal buyer searching for something unique to spice up St. Patrick’s Day, he would have been the perfect choice. I, however, was looking for a perennial that would know its place and serve its purpose year after year. At Home Depot, I choice Salvia for its steel blue panicles, showy display, and medium height to offset the towering irises and soil-hugging impatiens. Kathy had steered me in the right direction; I had not been so responsive when I shirked off his aunt’s advice.
After a break to usher one of my student’s through a rite of passage by styling her updo for a military ball, her mother Angela returned with me to attack the weeds once again. My friend Angela has had experience gardening and knew the difference between roots and vines. As we worked, I traded stories for her weed wisdom, and we laughed and toiled until the darkness forced us to quitting time. While her daughter was dancing in a gown fit for a princess with a young man in dress blues close enough to a prince, we were digging out the dirt from under our fingernails. I wouldn’t have traded places with her; she was, no doubt, the most beautiful girl at the ball, but I have become a woman who prefers to attend responsibilities with the same passion as a teen at a soiree.
Sunday afternoon found me once again back in the dirt to finish the job begun the day before, my purchased plants still in their plastic containers from the store. Even when the rain began to dampen my soiled sundress, I was determined to see my garden finished. Two more hours of weeding and turning the earth and it was time. In truth, it took about an eighth of the time to dig holes and plant than it had to prepare the beds. And in my second day of peaceful pensive meanderings, I could not ignore the new analogy begging to be birthed.
I had styled my hair in much the same way as my student’s some fourteen years ago when I attended my first formal, long before my ex-husband was in the picture. But the strands of hair matted to my face after a meaningful undertaking that now gives me something new to look forward to when I pull in the driveway is somehow more beautiful. Because it’s real.
Preparing the soil takes time, but it’s necessary to ensure that the garden that’s planted has what’s necessary to take root and blossom to its full potential. My ex isn’t the only weed that I’ve needed to eliminate. There were vine-like friendships stealing nutrients that had to be ripped out and chunks of fruitless pursuits to be yanked out. Like with my first garden, it’s taking longer than expected, but I’m all in. Perhaps a decade or two might find me laboring in the soil, but if that’s what’s required to create the foundation of a blossoming, fruitful future that may be planted in a fraction of the time, then I’m contented to stay on my knees.
I am not waiting for life to begin. I’m learning to heed wise counsel. The next aunt will not be ignored. The next little pink weed disguised as a flower will not mislead me. I’ll enjoy pensive moments preparing the soil for the momentary peace they offer, no longer so impatient I can’t recognize them for what they are – a gift of new life, rebirths, planted promises of blooms to come.
As it stands, the dappled pink blossoms of my magnolias wouldn’t have provided the cover to shade my impatiens that their thick green leaves do. The dead wood of my grand oak tree, finally collected to be distributed, will be put to a different use than when it stood tall in my backyard. I’m finding purpose in life can be exchanged, and so conclude there is hope for me yet.