Roses blooming in my garden often make it to my Facebook page, prompting friends to shower me with compliments about my green thumb. The response is flattering, but it makes me chuckle. If only they knew what a disaster I used to be.
Houseplants were the worst. I had such a bad reputation around the office that a couple of co-workers once marched up to my desk and took my last, withered something-or-other to their wing of the building to resuscitate it. Their parting words were, “You are not allowed to have plants anymore.”
Several years later, when I became a team manager, my staff proudly presented me with a rather large, hearty potted plant that they imagined would thrive in the sunlight streaming through the window in my office. A close friend and longtime colleague stopped in her tracks when she saw it. “Do they know you?” she asked.
Outdoor plants have fared better under my guardianship, but when I was a young wife and mother living in the Pacific Northwest my heart wasn’t really in it. It’s not that I let our yard go untended. I filled flower beds and pots with petunias and impatiens every spring, and I dutifully deadheaded the rhododendrons someone else had long ago planted along the side fence. I just didn’t have any interest in doing more than necessary.
My husband had the same mindset. Mow the lawn, trim the edges, pull the weeds. That was sufficient. We used to snicker quietly about our retired neighbor who seemingly spent all spring and summer pruning his roses and nurturing the rest of his well-manicured yard. “Doesn’t Mr. Peterson have anything better to do with his time?” we wondered.
More than 20 years later, I’m retired, and I understand. There isn’t anything better.
It didn’t actually take retiring for me to finally get it. The realization crept up on me over the 10 years we have spent in our current house in the high desert of Nevada. The backyard was nothing but sand when we moved in; now it’s an oasis of trees, pathways, shrubs and statuary. In the southwest corner is the rose garden where my efforts are happily rewarded with bursts of color from spring through fall.
It’s not only the flowers that make working in the yard worthwhile, however. Every time I get on my knees to weed and fertilize, every time I trim spent blooms or prune canes, I absorb a certain wisdom. Not just about gardening. About life. About writing. About myself. It’s as though the garden is a classroom, and the roses are my teachers.
My only regret as a born again gardener is that I didn’t get it when we lived next door to old Mr. Peterson. What a lovely thing it would have been to sit together with a glass of lemonade and swap stories from our gardens. What did he learn out there among his flowers? I can only wonder.