Before I took a part-time job as an in-house writer at a local school, working in the garden was just that — working, one more chore to do. Of course, once I got started I enjoyed it: the rhythm of weeding, the cool tactile delight of patting seedlings into place, orchestrating window boxes into a symphony of pattern and color. But gardening was nevertheless one more chore to accomplish.
Working three days a week leaves precious little time for everything else I used to do in five. I was dreading adding gardening to spring’s list of things to do. But this afternoon’s spell in the garden was a little piece of heaven, backbreaking heaven, but heaven nonetheless. The azaleas are in bloom, clouds of crimson, orchid and pink. The ajuga has returned, purple spikes framing the azaleas with their zany spires. The dogwoods are in full blossom, pink as summer lipstick. The lilies of the valley are up in profusion, quiet little white bells nodding beneath a quill of green. Coty’s Muguet des Bois (what the French call lilies of the valley) was the first perfume I ever wore. I tucked a sprig behind one ear and spent much of the afternoon shadowed by my ten-year-old self.
One of the rhodies didn’t fare too well. The winter was mild but for whatever reason, a good third to a half of her leaves have been reduced to rust-colored curls. There are anemic flowers here and there. I’m not worried. This happens every few years. She dies down and comes back bigger and better. A good lesson to remember when a harsh season leaves me feeling wilted.
Moving from bed to bed I fed the azaleas. Some of them we planted more than twenty years ago; they are now close to five feet high and seven feet wide. A little touch of my Georgia childhood up here in Michigan, they thrill me with their brilliance every year. No matter how much snow we have, how endless and pervasive the grey skies, I know the azaleas are there waiting to reward me for making it through another winter.
There are the inevitable invaders: some “volunteers,” some mishaps of my own. I am still pulling up sprigs of saponaria, planted for its promise of a pink delicately scented ground cover. Pink, yes. Ground cover yes. Delicately scented, no way. One gardener’s perfume is another’s yuck.
Behind the azaleas, I brush earth from the memorial stone marking where we buried our dog’s ashes. “Beloved McKenzie” it reads. It’s been two years and still we miss her; miss her happy spirit, her bright eyes, her black nose. A garden holds so much: anticipation and creativity; devastation and bounty; renewal and wonder; God’s everpresence. And sometimes in a quiet corner, a garden also holds the perennial reminder of love given boundlessly and missed so very very much.