Helpless Horror

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Have you ever had a nightmare where something terrifying was after you, yet when you tried to move, your legs were paralyzed?  Forcing yourself to move took an excruciating amount of time and once you actually started running from the thing that pursued you, you found that you could only move in slow motion…step by painful step…yet still the thing came – slowly, inexorably closer?

Welcome to my not-so brave new world of broken bones, forced immobility and a garden full of vining, rambling, crawling, sprawling and generally out-of-control plants.

Two weeks ago I stepped out of the house to spend a pleasant hour on the back of a horse.  The day was fine, my spirits were high and the garden, though venturing a little on the side of unruly, looked lovely.  Vines were vining and blooms were blooming, but the weeds were not, unfortunately, weeding – so I promised myself an afternoon’s worth of deadheading and brutal chopping following an ice cold drink upon my return.

Five days later I emerged from a hospital shock trauma unit where it was explained to me that falling off a horse at the canter isn’t the smartest thing to do on a beautiful Friday afternoon if one wants to deadhead roses and stop vines taking over the north side of one’s house.

It was also explained to me that in six weeks – should there be any garden left to deadhead – I would be allowed to do such crazy stunts as bending, kneeling, or minor lifting; and if I really wanted to throw caution to the wind, walking might be on the cards again too.

If I remember clearly through the Coleridge-esque narcotic fog, I think it was suggested I take up crochet.

So, here I am two weeks later and my new best friend is a sexy silver walker that can achieve speeds of nearly a tenth of a mile per hour.  The problem is, the climbing hydrangea, hops, wisteria, roses, campsis, hardy kiwi, berry canes, morning glory, silver lace vine and various ambitious squash plants can attain four times that heady speed without taking their coats off.

I think you see where this is going.

I am now a helpless bystander in a garden where I used to reign supreme.  Worse, my walker cannot handle the many terraced paths and steps that make up the rooms of my little kingdom, so even bystanding is limited to flat surfaces that don’t involve gravel, mulch, or any other type of…er…garden material.

I can stand on my front porch and survey limited areas, or stand upon my deck and survey other, limited areas.  If I spend five minutes with cane and helper, I can just make it upstairs in order to survey still other, limited areas.

But surveying is all I can do.  I must finetune other special skills in order to compensate for lack of movement.  So, I have perfected the sharp intake of breath through pursed lips as I watch my son drag a hose through the lavender.  I can gesture with gusto, and heavy sighing has become a fine tuned specialty of mine.  But certainly my forte right now is shouting nonsensically at those trying to help me harvest the constantly ripening vegetables.  Child or adult, all are victims of my frustration as I try to navigate through this new world of helplessness.

“Pick the ripe ones…No not that one!…Does that look like chard?….I thought you were familiar with a mature beetroot?…I said yellow squash…yellow!  What on earth has happened to the phlox?!?!?!!  Can anyone tell me what the tomatoes look like right now? ….Why can’t I get this &@#$& walker closer to the beds?!?”

I try to save my haranguing for those who will not be fixing my meals later in the day.  I’m not an idiot.  I’ve got a lot of poisonous plants in my garden, and there’s only so far you can push indentured servants in the middle of July before they crack and start looking up Agatha Christie recipes for yew berry tea.

It will be several weeks before I am wantonly tiptoeing through the tulips again, and ladder scaling is right out for weeks after that, so I will sit here and watch this garden rebel against former parental control.  I will watch the wisteria slap my visitors in the face, and the crabgrass tickle their ankles, and I will try…try, mind you…to learn something from the experience.

Besides the fact that I should have taken up crochet fifteen years ago – it’s infinitely less heartbreaking than gardening.

By | 2018-02-20T20:41:32+00:00 July 16th, 2011|

About the Author:

Marianne is the mother of two, wife of one and the voice of The Small Town Gardener. She gardens and writes from her home in the scenic (and exceptionally convenient) heart of Virginia's wine country.


  1. Jean July 17, 2011 at 7:36 pm - Reply

    Marianne, I am so sorry to hear about your accident. Maybe you should confine your horse riding to winter when broken bones will only lead to having to direct others in such tasks as snow shoveling. Good luck with keeping your minions working without making them hostile. (And, of course, when all else fails, there’s always reciting the serenity prayer.)

    • MB Willburn July 18, 2011 at 10:51 am - Reply

      Thanks Jean – improving daily, but extremely frustrating. Still, does give one perspective – and we all can use a bit of that now and again!

  2. John July 18, 2011 at 12:03 pm - Reply

    Sorry to hear about your fall. I hope you had a helmet on. I have a good friend who has fallen so many times she is literally pinned together by bits of metal. And still she looks forward to riding more than anything else she does.
    Sometimes gardening just forces one to accept that nothing is going to be perfect or happen as planned. I just planted the corn for instance, about 2 months later than I had in mind. But things happen. So relax, pretend you are at a resort where the garden is just not being kept up to your standards and as Scarlett would say, “After all … tomorrow is another day”.

    • MB Willburn July 18, 2011 at 7:11 pm - Reply

      Yes John – had a brand new helmet on that I’d bought the day before believe it or not – but the fall took my hip out instead – extremely annoying!

  3. The Sage Butterfly July 18, 2011 at 5:59 pm - Reply

    What a harrowing experience! It must be very frustrating. I hope you heal quickly. Perhaps you can find solace in the photos from the gardening blogs. Take care…

  4. Sue Ann July 22, 2011 at 11:51 am - Reply

    All will be well…get yourself in a mindset that “this is the year I’m allowing my garden to experience an unbounded freedom to be itself”. You might be surprised by what it reveals to you. It’s like taking the bridle and saddle off the horse and turning it loose in the middle of a meadow. FREE.

    Be gentle to yourself and I wish you quick healing.

    • MB Willburn July 22, 2011 at 6:29 pm - Reply

      Many many thanks to all of you who have commented or emailed to wish me speedy healing! Over the last week I have progressed from walker to cane and have a bit more mobility – with any luck I should be well enough to be putting a fall veg garden soon – or at least ordering my children to put in a fall veg garden! – Marianne

  5. Aunt Carole July 24, 2011 at 10:20 pm - Reply

    So sorry about your accident…praying for a fast recovery! Wish I was there to help with the garden…all I have now is containers, no yard..sigh…miss it so much…my Romas are grwoing but not ripening as yet…hoping to make sauce sometime this year!! The spinach grew in abundance! Will try that again in the fall…nothing like fresh spinach…oregano, chives, basil are doing ok…cilantro is dried up…oh well… take care and rest!

  6. Laura Bowly July 25, 2011 at 1:02 pm - Reply

    It sounds like my nephew and niece are going to need a vacation from Mom soon 😉 Hope you’re feeling better and that you are recovering swiftly! Since you’re immobile, perhaps I will send photos of my disease-ridden hedge and you can try to identify what is wrong with it to give you something to do. Oh, and there’s always Scrabble 😉

  7. Susan August 3, 2011 at 7:07 am - Reply

    Started knitting last year and trust me, it can be almost as heartbreaking. Hope you are recuperating well!

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