BENZONIA — The tiger lilies are fading. But the pink blossoms of the rose of Sharon began to bloom this week. So did the blue blossoms of the butterfly bush.
It’s mid-August. Just as in every month since early May when I raked the leaves out of the gardens, taking care not to injure the yellow daffodils, flowers are coming into view while others slip away.
Odes to gardens and gardening almost always are exuberant in their enthusiasm for the sun’s generous light, the dark soil that lodges in fingernails, the stress-relieving pact with the ground and the seasons that calm the heart and strengthen the muscles.
This ode is a departure. It’s an elegy for gardens and their lessons for living a life of committed, caring relationships.
Gardens, for instance, are useful in understanding marriage. You send a garden a pulse of love, they’ll send it right back. The more diligence, loyalty, love, and work you devote to caring for a garden the more beautiful are its flowers, the more colorful its shrubs and trees, the healthier its soil. A garden, like your spouse, appreciates constant affirmation. Disregard a garden for too long, say two weeks, and the trouble just mounts. Weeds grow. Wilt takes hold. Insects tote diseases that damage entire sections. The garden, like marriage, begins to dim. The damage can take months to repair.
Gardens are like trusting families. From one month to the next, one year to the next, the various plants, just like children, adopt and change and alter their patterns of behavior. Some grow, like our magnificent lilac, robust and breathtaking in its beauty. Others, like the rose I planted two years ago, aren’t sure how to behave. Magnificent red blossoms last year. Disordered and sullen now. The appropriate response, as in any loving family, is to keep feeding, keep watering, and express your devotion to their well-being no matter what.
Gardens are friends and close relatives. To stay in their lives requires resolute attention. They thrive on trust. I check in every morning to see who’s blossoming, who’s healthy, who’s having a bad day. I walk the yard slowly, past the row of boxwoods that define the front garden. I linger on the curved bridge that crosses the rain garden, irrigated by water that drains from the gutter, now full of black-eyed susans and ferns. In back, the hill garden, perched on a sun-drenched slope, is a display of white roses and zinnias, purple cone flowers, yellow-blossomed Jerusalem artichokes, and white hydrangeas. All of these plants, and many more in a garden almost 20 years in the making, return the allegiance in the strength of their stems, the brilliance of their flowers, the formidable unspoken agreement to endure years longer.
And gardens help explain the inevitable and unavoidable challenges in the passing of seasons, children leaving the home, aging and death. Every spring they burst from the soil and begin to fill the yard with sweet smells, glorious colors, and the promise of more to come. Every August, the colors begin to fade. By October the flowers vanish, the leaves of the bushes and big trees fall to the ground. Darkness and chill settle in. That’s life.
But in gardens there is something eternal. The soil eventualy warms. The days grow longer and brighter. The colors and aroma of sweet life revive. A garden well-tended, like a long and purposeful life, is a ceaseless feast of beauty and defiance.
— Keith Schneider