I am often asked as to where on earth I acquired any interest, much less ability in the garden. Perhaps this letter on Mother’s Day might answer that question…and perhaps my mother will someday forgive me for being so unforgivably soppy.
It was good to hear your voice yesterday and to hear how well the garden is doing. I planted late into the evening last night; and as I dug and divided and sipped a glass of dirt-flecked Pinot Gris, I thought about your garden and what an influence it has had on me since I was a little girl.
You will not credit it of course. I still hear you say you don’t know what you are doing out there. It seems that no amount of experience seeding carrots, or composting beds, or harvesting great armfuls of Swiss chard will ever convince you that you are an expert in your own little kingdom. It makes me smile each time you call me with a question on how many raspberry canes to cull or what to do about aphids on the kale. Can it be that the daughter must now tell the mother to believe in her own abilities? How funny life is.
It has not been an easy garden for you all these years, certainly. Decomposed granite and raging star thistle do not inspire the gardener to greatness. How many hundreds of yards of manure have you carted from trailer to beds under the unrelenting heat of a California sun? How many thousands of plants have fallen victim to the wickedness of Western Pocket Gopher? How many hours have you spent with a hose in your hand thinking wearily of water bills and wishing you’d dug a well so many years ago?
Yet how many nights did you stay outside as the dusk fell, intoxicated by the sweet heavy scents of earth and vegetation – tortured by the knowledge that you must throw together something for dinner – wishing only to stay and plant one more line of lettuce before the moon came out?
All these years later, with children at my ankles, I understand now why you waited until the last possible moment to go inside and face a woman’s cares. The garden was an escape, a place where you created beauty and quiet – and children left you alone for fear of being made to pick tomatoes or weed pathways. It was a room of your own.
I bet you sometimes wonder how one of those work-shirking freeloaders ever came to be the gardener she is. How it was that your globe-trekking daughter settled down and put her restless energy into gardening and writing and taking care of her own growing family. Did it surprise you that I would have the patience to root cuttings over a long winter? Or find intense pleasure in the discovery of a tomato seedling nestled under an overturned pot? It certainly surprised me. Sometimes it still does.
Your example made me the gardener I am. After so many years watching you and Dad get so much pleasure and so much pain out of those ten acres of Old Testament soil, how could I possibly plant a lawn and hire someone to mow it for me? Such satisfaction and joy I heard in your voice last night as you told me you were having to give away spring asparagus! Would that I were close enough to share them over a dinner table surrounded by three generations instead of two.
I wish that you could see my own garden right now. My photos will never do it justice. The bed you laid out years ago on your last visit is overfilled with rugosa, caryopteris, privet and oriental poppies heavy with bloom. I have not changed its softly curving shape and still think of it as yours each time I pass by on my way to the basement door.
And the gnats, well they’re crazy as usual. I doubt you’d ever trade your West coast drought for my East coast bugs. The gnat hat you made me is my trusted companion – I am never without it. Still, that means fireflies will soon be dancing again which reminds me of early days in Iowa and how that half acre of vegetables kept us fed when Dad was in school and money was tight.
I must go. Children are looking expectantly at me for all manner of needs and I wanted to get those anemones sent off to you before the post office closes.
Happy Mother’s Day Mom. Spend the day in the garden and be proud of the job you have done out there. I’ll try to do the same – and when the sun goes down and the kids ask when I am coming in to make dinner, I will think of you and smile.
All my love,