Earlier this week, I had a dream that I saw myself walking in a large, tall, glass building. I was wearing a thin coat. Everyone I saw told me I would be cold outside, that I should put a coat on. I told them I was fine, but thanks anyway. I saw so many people tell me this as I watched myself walk around in this building of multiple floors and various staircases, escalators, and elevators (but still plenty wide open space, for as much as a building can have such), that I began to wonder if maybe I shouldn’t put on a warmer coat, and maybe I would be cold when I went outside. As soon as I started to doubt, I watched myself take off my thin coat, and I saw there was another under it. I then proceeded to take off that coat, revealing another under it. And another came off revealing yet another, and another, and another, and so on and so forth. I never saw myself leave the building, but I knew by what I had seen that I certainly wouldn’t be cold when I did.
This year’s garden has had more flowers in it than ever before. Not that that’s a lot. Previously, I had committed to only planting things that were useful — things I could eat, or that would protect plants I would eat. There were some flowers that I was only partly responsible for their presence: hostas that were given to me by the neighbor across the street the first summer I was here 13 years ago; day lilies my sister brought from Wisconsin a couple summers ago that now have the opening act before the hostas are in bloom (and often steal the show); a wild white rose bush that I don’t remember planting but which could have been from the summer I threw seeds with abandon wherever they would land behind me, like tossing salt and having about as much faith (I’m not one to bend to superstition but will take its gains when they happen across my path). So I was surprised to find myself being red with envy at the bright red poppies I spied through the picketed fence that separates me from my back neighbors. They nearly spat their color burst taunts at me. And I caught myself feeling ill at ease when the morning glories that usually sneak out ahead of the pack and try to hold my whole garden hostage never really made much of a show this year, and not a single sneaky purple twisty flower did I have to tear away from fences or gates or the preferred “planted” plants.
Flowers, I am finding, have got me in a big crush. I seek them out, trying to spot them, trying to name them, playing the line over in my head — a rose by any other name would smell as sweet — and wonder if it’s true. Their scent seizes me. Like a peeping tom peering through the blinds, I cannot look away. And so I resign myself to the corny fact that this is my summer of love … of flowers. Accepting that, I finally bent and took myself to Shannon’s to buy some flowers to plant, to keep my day lilies company till the hostas appear, and to perk up the lonely dirt surrounding the wild rose bush since the wild roses went away. It pained me to buy annuals – so against everything this revel gardener espouses: frugality, practicality, simplicity, efficiency. But true to the one thing that underlies it all. Under all the doing, and the digging, and the planting, transplanting, replanting, soil scrounging, compost turning, and sometimes back breaking exhaustion, there is joy. This summer, the flowers give me that. So I am making room for them.
I may have mentioned I worked with a clutter buster for about a year. A spiritual type who got to the root of the matter, he helped me see that letting go of one thing makes room for something better. My front yard right now is largely a patch of dirt. I dug up the weeds (native plants) and other plant paraphernalia that was hanging out waiting for the concert to begin. The yard seemed to heave a sigh of relief. But stripping it nearly bare, I also saw the bends and the hills and the dips and the valleys where all this recent massive rainfall has an opportunity to seep in and make things uneven under there. (So I am looking for dirt. If you got it, let me know.) I thought that I would come up with a plan — one that was organized and scheduled. With useful things like echinacea that I could use to stave off illnesses and flu. Maybe there would be mint for tea, but perfectly contained in carefully constructed border walls throughout the now-untamed yard. Something in me could not bring me to assert such control over the space. So I have left it the largely bare naked ground it is, waiting patiently for an occasional flower or two to greet the curious passerby.
This week, while I was sticking my nose in yet another stranger’s plants, the master family came out to check me out. They’re Chinese, and our conversation was choppy but largely we all got the points. No, that other one over there was not a hydrangea (though I still question this). The one that I had my nose in? Those are edible petals — to cool down, to balance heat. They were delicate and slightly twisty yellow and white petals, with a fragrance resembling that of jasmine but with a slight bit greater perfume. It was heady, exotic. I wondered if it would be the polite thing to do to leave this poor family alone and be on my way. But I couldn’t. I’m sure in part-pity, one of them, who had come up from across the street or the store or wherever she was coming from when I wasn’t looking, broke a twig off, handed it to me and told me in her own way that if I put it in water it would grow roots and then I could have one of my own (and I wouldn’t have to rendezvous with theirs). Mission accomplished – I left them alone. Went on my way. Ran my errands. Bought my groceries. Got home. Did dishes. Made food. Ate. Remembered the twig. I stuck the thing in water thinking I had ruined the opportunity. Not twenty minutes later, I was in the kitchen wondering what that marvelous smell was. And there I saw it. It’s amazing how flowers give you their scent to let you know they’re okay.
Later this week, I was on an evening walk and noticed several small plastic cups of shoots from a single plant. Handwritten on paper taped to the cement was a note indicating they were free for the taking, and to just give them a couple days till they have their own roots, and you can plant them and they will … all year long. I don’t remember what it was they do – bloom, grow, something. It was enough for me. I took one, and it now sits on my windowsill.
Somewhere inside, I knew I was going to finally deal with those tomato seeds I’d abandoned last fall. I knew I had to. They were clutter to me otherwise. Clearing them from where they’d been placed opened room for new and better things. The yellow and white mystery jasminy plant. The generous offering from the neighbors I don’t know who set out their multitude of gifts for strangers. Then out of the blue, I received a call from my very most favorite neighbor who — I didn’t tell you — moved away a year ago last November. I shared my yard with her because where she lived down the street, there was no room to plant the vegetables she wanted to grow. We spent the better part of the summer a couple years ago talking plants and soil, and comparing notes on wild edibles, and going to community free talks on urban gardening.
My partner once teased I had a crush on her. This was after my partner saw us talking plants in the front yard from the upstairs window. I can see how this was the inference. People who have the love of dirt between them are connected in a deeper way than those who merely share desktops and cubicle walls (though I don’t disparage office friendships – they are simply different). About a month or more ago, she sent me something she had written. Two stories I’d been meaning to read. I’d started them. She’s such a good writer, it was hard to put them down. But life happens, and tasks, and untended gardens, and etc. I felt bad about not reading them, and worse about not writing to her to tell her I hadn’t read them. I finally broke my own silence with her, apologizing in an email I sent earlier this week. Luck had it she was coming back for a visit, and so I got to see her tonight. We drank coffee and talked about how I just finally planted those tomato seeds and would be reaping them in December if climate change continues to screw things up, and she helped me identify a “native plant” (read: weed) that she let me know was not the cool, edible plant I was hoping it might turn out to be and instead is an invasive one that was about to eat my strawberries. And I was glad to see her again. She brought me sugar snap peas from her garden in New Jersey, that we agreed I would see come August.
As we were talking, she noticed a couple of tomato plants that sprouted up on their own in the patch of dirt behind us. Just like last summer when I brought in tomato plants because I doubted my own seeds would take, here today I found I do have more than I need. More importantly, I have all that I need, even if no one else can see it.