For Opal

Winter is generally viewed as the rose garden’s season of rest and, therefore, the gardener’s.

This may be true for roses. The physiology of their purposeful hibernation reminds me of the grizzly and the groundhog. But it is not entirely true for the gardener.

In the high desert, where precipitation isn’t dependable, we keep a watchful eye on the weather. If it hasn’t rained or snowed measurably for a couple of weeks, we’re outside with the hose and watering can. If the wind scatters the mulch we so carefully spread in the fall, we’re likely to throw on a jacket and rummage around in the shed for a rake.

The roses don’t ask for this help. But they need it just as surely as they need pruning and fertilizer in other seasons. The key for the gardener is to pay attention.

The same is true for friendships.

It’s easy to respond when someone reaches out for a helping hand or a strong shoulder. How many of us have gladly sat with a friend during the grueling hours of chemotherapy, provided care for children or pets, cooked a meal, run an errand, or joined in a prayer chain at church or on social media?

But what about those friends who don’t reach out?

This month I lost a friend who I didn’t even realize was gravely ill. Oh, I knew she’d been diagnosed with cancer a couple of years ago. But the last time we talked about it, she was in remission.

Her occasional posts on social media in recent weeks didn’t hint that anything was amiss — an eagle atop a flagpole, an old photo of her and her husband on their anniversary, family memories. Not a word about her health. And I didn’t ask.

Then came the news she had passed away. On her 66th birthday.

My sadness was magnified by my unintentional neglect. In this day and age, there’s no excuse for silence even when hundreds of miles separate you. A text is as easy to send, a call as easy to make, when you don’t know someone needs you as it is when you do.

This is my apology to Opal for not paying attention, for not sending that text. It’s also my heartfelt thanks to her for living a life that reminded me and all who knew her that it is good to be cheerful and kind, calm and wise, and that hope and laughter are always in season.

Opal, your long winter is over. It’s always springtime in Heaven. See you there one day, dear friend.

Earth Up

Today in the rose garden my bushes are resting in a blanket of white. It’s been snowing off and on for the past couple of weeks and more is expected. In Northern Nevada and the Sierra, we’re on track to set snowfall records.

Yet as I write this, the clouds are coming apart like old seams on a gray dress, revealing a shiny blue underskirt. The sun is taking advantage of the moment, throwing delightful shadows across the yard and igniting tiny points of light on the crispy snow. It’s as though someone tossed handfuls of diamonds on the back patio, and they’re out there just waiting to be collected.

Admiring the utopic but chilly scene, I’m grateful that I mounded plenty of organic mulch around the crowns of my rosebushes in the waning days of autumn to protect them from winter elements. You may have heard a gardener call this “earthing up.”

And now, as is my habit, my thoughts about gardening turn to life outside the rocks and roses in our yard. I find myself comparing the fall mulching to the way our immediate family quickly “earthed up” around three that were diagnosed with cancer in the last six weeks – prostate, breast, bladder.

Two will go under the knife in about nine days. The third will have chemotherapy first, then surgery. There’s little need to describe the anguish and worry for the family or the grueling treatment for the patients. Even if you haven’t had cancer yourself, then it’s highly likely you know someone who has.

What is more heartening to describe is the almost mystical way a family draws closer in moments like these. The roots are already intertwined, but somehow they manage to stretch out further and become more interdependent. You can’t tug at one without tugging at the rest. Everything that happens to one happens to all.

Case in point, the rear neighbor at my last home grew prolific flowering bushes that sometimes poked their pretty heads through the slats of the fence. For a fledging gardener like me, that was pleasant enough. But whatever he used to enrich his soil filtered into my soil and the plants on my side of the property line flourished as well. His efforts were like a prayer said for one but showered on many.

In this trying time, I like to think of our family as a collection of trees and flowers and bushes that appear to stand alone but, if you look beneath the surface, are eternally and inalienably connected. Turn off the drip system and you withhold water from every living thing on the line. Fertilize a single bush and the ones around it also absorb the boost.

The clouds are merging again now. A few snowflakes are drifting on a light breeze. Shadows have drawn up, and the sparkling diamonds have been collected by the elusive fairies that inhabit our garden.

I am left with a prayer. Said for three but showered on many.

Winter Scene - Earth Up

One Brief Shining Moment

Today’s blog post is dedicated to Mike Willden, Chief of Staff for Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval and leader of the Camelot in my career.

My rose garden … in fact our whole yard … awakened last spring with gusto. The lush foliage and thick sprays of colorful blossoms rivaled the best botanical parks I’ve toured. All this because the Northern Nevada desert experienced one of the warmest, wettest winters on record.

20180512_161821Most amazing was the effect on my Lady Banks roses. If these two climbers produce anything, it’s usually a smattering of tiny, yellow blooms. This year they were covered with dozens of romantic bouquets.

Why was this so astonishing?

Lady Banks is rated down to Zone 6, and I live in 7, but it fares best in Zones 9 and up where the minimum year-round temperature is higher. Mega-grower Monrovia calls it a “nearly tropical” plant because it’s so vulnerable to frost.

I didn’t know this when I innocently bought two at a big box store in 2009. A few years later, after a particularly hard winter, I turned for advice to a respected local nursery because the plants looked like goners. They questioned why I bought them in the first place.

We don’t even sell those. You know those pictures of English cottages covered in rose vines? Those are typically Lady Banks.

They recommended replacement with something more desert friendly.

Well, I tried, but they were stubborn buggers. The stumps wouldn’t budge. I finally gave up. A few weeks later I decided to give it another go but, lo and behold, new shoots had appeared. If you want to stay so badly, I said aloud, have at it.

Then came the warm, wet winter of 2017-18. I imagine those ladies stretching downward with their roots and skyward with their vines while singing a plant version of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus.

The song playing in my own head was Camelot.

A law was made a distant moon ago here. July and August cannot be too hot. And there’s a legal limit to the snow here. In Camelot.

The experience brought to mind a joyful decade during my career when my colleagues and I confidently took bold risks and produced amazing outcomes. The power came from enlightened, supportive leadership. It was like the winter of 2017-18. Oh, what heights you can reach when the climate is perfect.

I have to wonder. Wouldn’t it be paradise if we lived in a world where support fell like warm rain in the tropics? Where leaders put themselves last and everyone else first? Where every home was a haven of love and encouragement? Where the streets were filled with kindness and acceptance? Where Camelot was never doomed and the sad reprise never sung?

For the sake of my Lady Banks, and all my other flowering bushes, I hope we have another warm, wet winter. After 21 years in this neck of the woods, I know it isn’t likely. Instead, I’ll be out there, watering during dry spells, trying to mimic Mother Nature and recreate this year’s one brief shining moment. Won’t you join me? In the garden. Or wherever Camelot beckons.

Time to Rest

With the beginning of fall about 30 days behind us and winter about 60 days ahead, gardening activities are winding down.

Just a few weeks from now, I know that sitting in my chair with a blanket and a good book will sound pretty attractive. Until then, I find myself railing against that image. I sneer at the thought of the old Byrds’ song Turn Turn Turn. Even the approach of the “hap-happiest season of all” doesn’t thrill me.

Why can’t I gladly ease into the rest that the seasons naturally provide?

The garden knows it’s time to rest. The roses stopped producing new blooms and the foliage is turning dull and crispy. The trees know it. Their leaves are gold and rust and starting to drop. Even the grass knows it. It no longer needs mowing and is showing signs of slumber.

But I love my garden. And I love being in it. Turning the soil, putting down fertilizer, pruning and trimming, pulling weeds, planting something new. All those tasks simultaneously delight and relax me.

Winter Scene (10.22.18)In my youth I hated it when my parents handed me the shears and pointed to the ivy creeping over the curb and into the street. Years later, as a young homeowner, I still wasn’t enthusiastic about tending the flower beds. Now I’m like a skier who hates to see the snow melt or, on the other side of the calendar, a mountain biker who hates to see the trails blanketed in white.

Yet, I have to ask myself. If I could be in the garden all year, would I love it just as much or would I tire of the endless upkeep? Would the promise of roses 12 months a year keep me going or would I yearn for a long vacation like I did when I was working?

I like to think the garden would never wear me out. As it is, I don’t have to find out. The bone-chilling winters in the high desert make it impossible to garden year-round – at least not without a greenhouse.

What will I do during the cold season when I’m shut indoors? I suppose curling up in a blanket and reading a good book is in the cards. But I also plan to organize family photos going back to around 1992. And guess what? There are about 10 years and thousands of rose photos included in that task.

Ha-ha! Fooled you, Mother Nature. I’ll rest. But I’ll still enjoy my garden.