"Look, you have to get over it."
My husband spoke gently, but worry lines edged his eyes. I turned away from him, my own eyes blinded by tears. Friends had died or left me. The hoped-for first novel now lay shoved aside as undoable in some darkened desk drawer.
I blinked the tears back, laughed harshly as I stared at the garden outside my window. A ragged tangle lay before me, as woebegone as I felt. Brown rosemary sprigs choked the stems from which dangled a few small roses. Robust weeds crowded through heavy clay soil, strangling scrawny periwinkles. Just looking out the window at my garden made me want to cry all over again. Instead I lowered the shade.
But the vision of the poor garden wouldn't go away. One day a thought flitted through my head: I'd be a whole lot happier with a handsome rose garden, and maybe it would lift my spirits and make me forget this dreadful year.
A happy thought--and somewhere Mother Nature chortled and rubbed callused hands. Rebekah Berger, Brown Thumb of California and all parts east.
I just thought I could stick a few dahlias, rose bushes, petunias, and peonies into the land, and boom, there'd be a wonderful garden to remind me that life was beautiful! I even splurged and bought a small stone gargoyle--christened Petey-to hunker beside a miniature rose.
Within weeks, the dahlias died as pitiful brown wrecks. The peonies--requiring snow--gave up the ghost in sunny California. The land stayed dry for the most part, except when I watered with the hose. The roses limped under the swing of too much and too little water.
Okay, I'll get a drip hose. Surely it can't put out that much water, I thought, flipping on the spigot with gusto. I left for the afternoon. When I came back, the land was so soaked that the petunias had drowned, and Petey had fallen on top of the miniature rose, killing it.
For a while I put off tending the pitiful little plot. Jeez, well, what did I expect? I was the Plant Killer. I snuffled and pulled down my window shades and tried to ignore what I saw. And every time I went outside, there the garden was, suffering. All right! I'd try again.
Grumbling I went out and pulled weeds for hours on end. I made myself do it twice that week, and then three times the next. After a while, I noticed that when the emotions were the bleakest, the mindless weeding soothed me. As I worked the soil, the pain inside me ebbed. And looking at the roses, I suddenly noted shiny red leaves curling on the stems. My God! The roses were not dead. In spite of me, they lived!
Off to the library I went to study roses. Hmm. Roses do well with bright sun. Well, I had that. They like a consistent water supply. Well, it doesn't rain in the spring, summer or fall in California, but there was the drip hose, if I knew how to use it. And lastly, all those dainty roses grew on plants that were a lot tougher than they looked.
I threw out my ideas for fussbudget dahlias and impossible peonies. I'd grow only plants that would grow in a climate we all found ourselves in. And I plunged ahead with growing roses.
Of course the mistakes continued. I over watered and drowned one rose. I over fertilized and burned another. I watered a potted rose from the top, not knowing that nothing was trickling to its roots, and killed it. Mother Nature cackled incessantly.
But I kept on, and bit by bit the roses responded with fragrant sprays of flowers. Friends still died, moved away or left in other manners, and I wept for them as I weeded in the garden and dug up grass to put in more flowers. Only later did I notice, I did not weep as much as before. I continued to garden. Oh, my fingers, and oh, my arms, raked by the thorns of those ingrate roses. Oh, my back from bending, planting, raking and heaving. My skin sprouted freckles, and sun lines appeared if I forgot my hat. Mud was always under my fingers and splinters in my palms. Yet soon I knew I could no longer stop gardening, for I could no longer walk away from the life that flowed around me.
One day, as I pruned away, the new neighbor across the street called out to me, "Girl, you've got a blooming green thumb."
Me? The Plant Killer? I laughed uneasily and went on with my growing. Oh God, now I HAD to be good, because people were watching. Jeez, what if I did it wrong and they all died? Then everybody would be whispering, "Poor woman. All that money and a pile of dead plants."
Weeks later, I went to that woman's house for tea. Her windows were still curtainless. I looked straight out the bare glass right onto my front lawn.
And caught my breath at the scene before me.
Vivid purple blossoms tumbled over elegant whites that draped over yellows and pinks. Sprays of blue forget-me-not sprawled over a thatch of daisies and jutting purple salvias.
The garden! My garden! It was splendid! It lifted the hearts of those in the neighborhood--but more than that, it lifted my own as well.
Now I know that death and loss come to all of us and are no strangers to gardens or gardeners. But when I look at my garden, I remember that within the soil, growth is there, too, and that from barren ground can come the promise of the sweet-smelling fire of life itself.
BIO: Rebekah Berger is a harried, self-employed medical transcriptionist by day. By night, she cranks out articles, some of which have been published in Marshall Cook's Creativity Connection and Katherine Woodbury's Science Fiction/Fantasy Workshop. On weekends, she ghost-hunts at supposedly haunted spots in Southern California. To soothe her nerves, she grows roses, succulents and any flower that is the color purple.
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