Tonight, I couldn’t begin to name half the plants that surround me as I recline poolside in a lawn chair overlooking Lake Minnehaha in Uncle Paul’s back yard in Maitland. Florida’s greenery hosts many foreign breeds to this novice gardener. Nevertheless, a day trip to Bok Tower Gardens nearly an hour and a half southwest of my uncle’s domicile gave my spirits a boost. After only a few months of plant study, I was able to recognize a dozen plant varieties based on bloom and leaf arrangement.
Friendship was in the gardens. The hydrangeas reminded me of snapshots from my friend Kyle’s recent trip to Costa Rica where he zip lined through the Cloud Forest. The gardenias reminded me of my friend Angela’s favorite flower, and as I bent over to sniff its flagrant blossom, I recalled how she snipped the first bloom of the year and gave it to her soon to be step-daughter, Ahna, my former student that brought us together. Purple lilacs reminded me of the backyard route to a nearby school that I would take with Gabby, a girl for whom I babysat for a decade and who stood up for me in my wedding.
Family was in the gardens. The pink petunias reminded me of my mother’s yard in Syracuse, New York, and the bronze leaf begonias reminded me of a recent exchange between us where Mom divulged that like me, she rediscovered begonias this year. The lily pads reminded me of my childhood at our family’s cottage in the Adirondacks where my brothers and I would take out the row boat or the paddle boat and fish in the cove. The Spanish Moss reminded me of family vacations with my uncle, aunt, and cousins to Cocoa Beach and boogie boarding… Dad and I had matching florescent pink bathing suits!
Home was in the gardens. The blue salvia reminded me of my first trip to Home Depot where I searched for height for the back rows of my garden beds. The southern magnolias reminded me of my own hybrid blend. We even saw the unnamed plant from my neighbor Mrs. Washington’s garden that seems related to the poinsettia.
New was in the gardens. There were a dozen varieties I’d never laid eyes upon: pink Seven Sisters, Orange Plume, red Crape Myrtle, False Blue Ginger, Firebush, purple Bridal Flower, Monkey Grass, and Caladium among them. When Uncle Paul and I paused on a bench to wait for the tower’s 1 pm bell concert, he unearthed an article on his iPhone detailing a recent research study at Stanford that boasts the positive correlation between test scores and nature walks. As he recounted the details, my uncle laughed at the expense spent on mastering the obvious. Apparently, the inclination to ruminate is greatly reduced when exposed to the great outdoors.
Typically by now on my writing nights, a life analogy grips me, but I have found none… perhaps because I did not spend my day ruminating on life gone wrong. So far removed from the intricacies of my day to day life in Virginia on my vacation this week, normalcy escapes me. Though I attempted to replicate my writing night with the required glass of red wine, the bird calls and crickets around me are a far cry from those on my white wicker love seat by my red front door. Even my date from Friday night seems a lifetime ago.
I had only spent a few days chatting online with this West Virginia boy transplanted to Portsmouth on the other side of the water. We made on-the-spot dinner plans and met up a half hour later at a local chain restaurant. The first five minutes of conversation revealed he was a stoner, the first laugh revealed he was missing a front tooth, and the last hour revealed his greatest accomplishment was a classic car he’d modified to race with fuel injectors. The next day, he responded favorably to my text message asserting I believed he would agree we were not on the same page romantically, though I offered that he was a fun guy who would meet the right lady for him soon enough.
Each unsuccessful romantic encounter thus far has only given me further insight to narrow my focus and pay attention to details I had not given attention to before. Each suitor is his own crash course in Dating 101 that prepares me for the next level. Just as in college when we had to master prerequisites in order to progress to the advanced levels, I recognize that I am logging hours to master the dating scene before I progress to Relationship 201. My friend Kyle jokes that I am now an experienced First Dater. My dating profile claims that I am not looking for Mr. Right for Right now or Prince Charming, but for always and forever. My current journey is advancing this status… from first date to forever.
The gardens at Bok Tower took me on a journey through my life as I meandered on the mulched pathways. Who I am is a product of those great influences in my life. My friends, my family, little Gabby, and even Mrs. Washington have shaped me. The fact that I consider “home” as the white house with a red door in downtown Hampton where I have lived for less than a year is evidence to the impact of my recent life experiences. Three years ago, I called Nashville home. I knew nothing of magnolias or begonias or salvia or gardenias. Planting a garden was not on my radar. Nor was online dating.
The interconnectedness of the human experience, represented by wildlife over eight hundred miles from what I now call home, proves that my story is in the details. Over the span of a few hundred yards, my consciousness was flooded with memories of thirty-two years of details. The positive conclusions of the Stanford research study were evidenced in those memories. During my hours in the gardens, I did not reflect on failed relationships or doomed dates, but rather those people and experiences that built the “Laura Joy” that spends Tuesday nights writing about her current paradigm.
Were the shade of my magnolias irrelevant, I would create a garden that reminds me of the positive impacts to my life. Hydrangeas for Kyle, gardenias for Angela, lilacs for Gabby, petunias for my mother, morning glories for my grandmother, and tomatoes for my grandfather. If the habitat could support it, Spanish moss would hang from my magnolias to add in my father and our matching bathing suits. There would be no clover weeds popping up to remind me of my ex-husband or roses to remind me of my ex-boyfriend. And all of these failed first dates? They amount to little more than ground cover in my garden story, but every garden needs a little ground cover to make the important plants stand out.
In some ways, it felt like the introduction to all the new plant varieties today was simply a part of my Dating 101 course. I could liken each of my recent suitors to one of these plants and explain why I would not want them in my garden. Like West Virginia boy, the Firebush has a lot of personality, but its colors don’t mesh with mine. Like coffee boy, Monkey Grass is too simple and not much of a conversationalist. Like adultery boy, the False Blue Ginger is easy on the eyes but by name isn’t genuine.
With each plant I’ve tried in my garden and each date I’ve entertained, I’ve learned something valuable about growth and its success or failure. The story of Laura Joy is defined by a host of influences, and no amount of ruminating can undermine the positive impact of the interconnectedness of the human experience. It is by continuing to experience life that growth abounds as I’ve witnessed over sixteen weeks of recording my internal narrative. There is an indefinite number of plant varieties in the world, and an indefinite number of men, but I only need one.
The right one. The conclusion of this dating course will find me ready for my always and forever. And I’ll know him when he reveals himself because of all the wrong ones that found their ways into my story. And he’ll know me because of the hydrangeas, gardenias, lilacs, petunias, morning glories, tomatoes, and Spanish moss that made me the woman I am today.
A day in the gardens has yielded positive outcomes after all. I end it in gratitude to those garden varieties who have made my life full and blossoming beyond hope.