I Went To A Garden Party…

I did not grow up gardening.  I always joked about my brown thumb. I could never keep a house plant, they  always died immediately upon entering my space.  I just resigned myself to that idea. (just as I resigned myself to being unable to bake, and am still quite happily resigned to that)

When Tom and I bought our house the yard  was very lush and green and needed no gardening other than the paid mow and blow and keeping the hedges in some sort of respectable overgrown order.  At one point, however, we had to take out several trees.   There was one pine that grew directly in front of our house in a small triangle plot that was among those that had to go.  With that tree gone the little triangle looked very sad and I had the idea that maybe,  just maybe, I could plant there.

And so I  did. Enthusiastically, with great love and joy and no little trepidation.

At first I looked for plants I liked, with  no thought to whether there was the proper light or shade or whatever…I just planted. I had to learn that some plants couldn’t live in that plot because of the sun or lack thereof, and so  I branched out to pots, and  there were pots filled with different shade plants on the front stoops and the back covered porch area.  I really loved it.  I never had much of a plan other than oh Tom likes Snapdragons and I like Sunflowers and the kid can plant these and that was about as big as my plan ever got.  I remember my friends reactions, it was so unlike of me. Supportive and skeptical.  My friend Cheri, at a poker game ( which was more my speed) one night laughed hysterically as I described my day “deadheading” plants .  The idea that I would use a “tech” term such as deadheading was pretty funny at the time.

I did find myself as the years went by making the plantings a bit purposeful, symmetrical. But the flowers, annuals,  were always were switched out based on  whim and for how they looked, their colors, the weather,and the ways in which they made me happy.  I tried doing some bulb planting one year when I was bequeathed a few iris bulbs from a dear friend who died. I believe I started with 3 bulbs, and by the time I sold my house last year there had to have been 20 Iris that bloomed every year, actually taking up most of the plot and making it hard for me to sprinkle others in. They were Margaret’s Iris and I loved them. ( A weird aside about those Iris, they bloomed purple/blue every year and then one year, there was an orange one and then another…how did that happen? I never googled it or even asked.  It is one of those mysteries that I am sure has a logical explanation but I don’t care. I always thought of it as Margaret keeping me on my toes, giving me a giggle.)

Right before my open house last June I attacked the plot, which, except for the Iris, was  a mess of neglect and sorrow. I went out and bought a bunch of plants to pot and to plant. The back looked nice, the front porch had some beautiful Hydrangea and the little triangle had blooming Iris and all sorts of other plants….Gerbera Daisy, Ranunculus , Zinnias among whatever I else I could throw in there for random, vibrant, “curb appeal” color. I had thought to make it more sensible for the open house, but I also knew that it was going to be the last time I would plant there and so I  just had fun. It looked great and cheery and “staged” the front yard nicely.

And then I moved to my current apartment.  I have a little  balcony, a place that I can plant a few pots, not a real garden but something. It was a selling point for the place (made up 10 times over for the fact that I  have to go downstairs and share a washing machine and dryer!).  Anyway,  I had  brought some pots and some Iris, but then kind of forgot about it. I would sit out there on a hot night and wish for plants but I didn’t have the energy and I also knew they wouldn’t last well in the heat, so I didn’t plant anything new.  I looked forward to planting some pots in the spring, and hoped the Iris would bloom (that’s not looking good, just not enough sun for them. Sorry Margaret!)

Spring is here now and the other day I went to Target and bought some potting soil.  I  also stopped at the gardening center and  bought a few plants, some that  I know from experience would do well in the shade. I used this time as my “artist date” for my work in The Artist Way, the 12 week program I am still doing diligently (haven’t written much about it…gotta say it’s good and interesting but a little meh..).

Here’s the thing I wanted to write about. And yes, it’s grief again,  but it’s a bit different.

As I walked through Target and into the gardening section, past all of the patio furniture and the pots and the things needed for planting I just got so sad. Crying sad. The crying in public sad, where you bite your lip and breathe hard and tear up but do not allow the deep sobs to come because WTF would that mean?  I pictured my triangle. I pictured all the pots I left behind with my dear neighbor Carole, that I hope she’s using. I pictured the Iris bulbs blooming in the little plot of earth for someone else, and those on my balcony that are not getting enough sun and will certainly never bloom. I pictured my back patio and the pots lined up with Impatiens and Begonias and how sweet it  was to look out the back window while sitting at my table .  I remembered the way I felt after planting, which was generally the need for 4 advils and a heating pad, but I didn’t care, not at all, not a whit. Because…. my triangle, my pots, my planting, my little beauty. And it made me really sad and made me miss my house and the way I had learned to plant there.

The thing I didn’t think of?  Tom, our life, what I lost there.   Obviously  I think of that plenty, but this was another loss…a loss of the years that it  was MY house only, MY garden only. I missed MY house, not ours. I missed My garden and my space to plant.

It felt like some kind of shift, or at least another way of looking at things. I lived in that house for  almost 22 years, but only 14 with Tom. While that is a chilling thought it also allows me to miss my house. A place I hated for a long time, was so sad in, drank away demons in  and ignored a lot…but it was mine. And I do miss it.

Especially my triangle, my experiment in gardening, my little plot of land that really was all mine, even when it was ours.

And now I am off to find some more plants. The Begonia and Impatiens are lovely, but the balcony definitely needs some Hydrangea. Not “the balcony”. My balcony, my new triangle garden.


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  1. I loved this Michele. For SO many reasons. I have a garden, I love my triangles and I’ve cried in Target (in the Christmas ornaments section 6 months after a flood demolished our basement and took the kiddos handmade ornaments with the muddy water).
    You had the iris from your friend and I had 3rd generation peonies from my grandma.
    And, even though we’ve never met, your words had me wishing I could send you one of my hydrangeas and some tomato seedlings for your new triangle garden.
    Happy Spring 🙂

    • Thank you!
      I have been reading your blog and LOVE reading about your garden. I had this in the hopper for the last 2 weeks because I hadn’t finished it and I was reading yours and feeling insecure…(kidding, but kinda not, lol).
      I love hydrangea and always wanted real hydrangea bushes, but tons of pots planted with them made me happy at the house, and will make me happy on my balcony!

      • Ha! Ha! To be transparent, I should post pictures of all the things that I’ve killed in the last 20 years! I love hydrangeas and have yet to get them to bloom the second year. I had pots last year, too…so, I’ll see if they come back and bloom. Not making any promises. You’ll probably have to send me pics of yours and I can pretend that they are mine, too. Happy Friday!

  2. You give us brown thumbs hope. Actually this would give anyone hope. I’m glad you created your own triangle in your new space. Beautiful stuff.

  3. Sure get what you’re talking about, Michele. I got so attached to certain plants–that Australian tree fern that was only a foot tall when I planted it, then grew to 8 or 10 feet until the Monterey pine next door was taken out and changed the ecology of that corner of my yard. I wept over that fern. And dismanteling the herb spiral my son built for me out of rocks my husband and I collected on Sierra hikes, my wild grape vine on the west fence…so many friends gone or left behind.

    And yet, I couldn’t garden anymore. It had become a burden. And now, I’m surrounded by a garden and huge trees, and have to do nothing about them! How lucky to have landed here, unburdened in a garden.

    We move on, like it or not.

    So much I could relate to here.

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