This year I have approached my garden from an Emersonian viewpoint, embracing the virtues of weeds. A house remodeling project in the spring, a book idea, and unbearable stretches of heat this summer have led to an unprecedented level of garden neglect on my part. I have told friends and family that 2012 is the year of Garden as Science Project.
A few years ago this would have been unimaginable. I regularly rose at the crack of dawn to fit in gardening before the Virginia heat and humidity descended. These days, exercise and writing have elbowed their way to the top of my precious early morning hours priority list.
I’m choosing to frame this as progress. In the weeks preceding my mastectomy three years ago, if I wasn’t at a doctor appointment I was in the garden, clearing dead brush and yanking weeds like so many cancerous cells, planting dahlia tubers for the promise of saturated blooms in the fall, and spreading hundreds of pounds of mulch while I was still able. I knew I was to be banned from lifting anything for weeks at a time after the mastectomy and subsequent reconstruction surgeries.
Within a few days of being back home after the mastectomy, cabin fever set in. Gardening had always been a therapeutic passion for me, and I was not only under doctors’ orders to refrain from digging, planting, and weeding, I couldn’t have managed it if I had tried. I was shocked at the toll the surgery took on my energy levels, having been blessed with a strong and healthy body my whole life.
I wandered through my garden in my bathrobe, dragging the watering hose with my good arm while trying to ignore the drainage hose hanging like a gas siphon from my ribcage. I apologized to the plants that begged for more attention, snipped a few hydrangea blossoms to bring inside, and went back to bed. Physical weakness was a totally foreign sensation for me, and I didn’t handle it well, finally succumbing to depression and self-pity. I sucked at being sick.
But we both survived, my garden and I. It taught me a lot. My body had a strong foundation, the garden had a strong foundation. I am back and stronger than ever. My garden is strong enough to do its own thing this year, with surprises bursting forth in every corner.
Just when I think I should pull out the lanky volunteer Verbena Bonariensis flowers from between the hydrangeas, I’ll see the sunbeam flash of a Goldfinch feasting on their seeds. The mild winter and my spotty job of mulching created fertile spots not only for chickweed to sprout, but also for snapdragons to reseed, saving me money on garden center bedding plants; even some petunias overwintered in pots that should have been cleared out. I will take these gifts of my neglect as a message that it’s OK to ratchet down the control every once in a while.
How does your garden grow? Let me know in the reply box!