Friday, June 3, 2011

A bit late for Mother's Day.

Hi, Mom. I thought of you this morning.

Back when spring started, I began thinking about doing something in our "backyard". Something small. Not only because the "yard" is more of a "paved patio with a tiny strip of dirt on the perimeter" but because I can never remember to water plants.

Up to this point our most reliable greens-keeper has been Greg, though I can't say he's had a perfect record either. In the nearly 5 years we've been here, any major planting and potting has been due to his ambitions. After a flurry of weeding and seeding, he tries to remember to give them a drink every other day or so. When he falls out of the habit, it never occurs to me to take up the slack.

I have sometimes felt bad about it. Ok, maybe more wistful than bad. My mom has always loved getting into the garden and making it work. Some of my very earliest memories are of Mom weeding our large backyard on Oak Street, using a long screwdriver to loosen the dirt, showing me how to tug the weed gently until it comes free easily. I'd have a small screwdriver of my own, and I'm sure my attempts mostly resulted in chopped roots that became more weeds.

Mom still spends lots of time in her yard and it's always beautiful this time of year. I learned from my mom that you don't have to be a flower expert to make things pretty or enjoy the outdoors.

I may not have had as strong an inclination to do garden work, but it has been in the back of my mind, even while watering half dead potted ivy on our old apartment balcony. My parents bought us a plant stand as an housewarming gift that year. It has definitely gone underused in the decade since.

But this year I had Theo in full toddler mode, ready to assist me in getting dirty and pouring water on our sandals. We started slowly, watering our existing survivors every other day or so, early in the morning when it's still cool. As this became habit, I bought some cheap wildflower seed and a cute turtle watering can at Target. Toss in an existing flower pot and voila, we have a bit of a sprout coming up. Having built our way up to actual gardening status, I figured it was time to clear some growth and plant something for real.

So that's how I found myself in the back at 8:30 in the morning, far before the sun makes the trip over our building to fry anyone in its path. I dragged out the old bathmat I'd kept for such an occasion, to save my knees from the paving stones. I knew Theo would never let me keep the garden tools away from him, so we traded the spades and hand rake back and forth. (No sign that he would try to smash the sliding glass door or do damage to himself. He's a good kid.) No screwdriver necessary as this was a large-scale clearing of weeds and clover.

Large-scale? It really was a measly little job. I cleared about 1.5 square feet of overgrowth and attempted to get all the fiddly little roots I could. The soil is riddled with pebbles - I ended up pulling out a nice handful and could probably have done more. Then I plopped a new plant in - some sweet mint that I picked up as good bunny food (and people food).

Theo's help involved some digging and tossing of dirt, plus attempts to stab my hands with a spade, not to mention delightfully exploring the garage. He helped water (the pavement and his feet) with his little watering can and tried to move the heavy garden hose.

We were probably only out there for an hour or so. After a bath and some playing inside, Theo was wiped early and is still taking a huge afternoon nap. I think more gardening is in our future.

I know my Mom would have done a better job, but I also know that gardening isn't about neat rows and perfectly trimmed plants. It's about dirt in your fingernails and your hair pulled out of your face in a bun. It's that feeling when you stand up after working on your knees for a while. It's about watching a worm squirm back into the ground and holding still while a bee buzzes by. It's about pulling a weed and being impressed with the size of the root. It's about showing Theo all these things.

I feel very appreciative for the time I have now, and the time I had then, 30 years ago. Thanks, Mom.


  1. This made me grin so big :) I'm still grinning...

  2. Mint is a good choice. Grows like crazy with little effort, smells nice, and as long as it's watered well, lush and green.

    Rosemary is a little more resistant to being forgotten, water-wise, and also a lovely scented edible.

    If you want to try some roses, Trader Joe's has an *incredible* deal on the little potted mini roses right now... I was in there the other day and they were $1.99/ea!

    Good luck with your garden!