Getting My Hands Dirty

On October 2nd 2010, my Mom passed away.  This week’s posts are for her.

You could say that my love of gardening is the obvious result of growing up a farmer’s daughter but there are two big reasons why this can’t be true.  In the first place, ours
was a chicken farm.  With the exception of my Grandfather’s obsession with planting trees around the barns, there was very little digging in the earth involved in the process of raising chickens.  In the second place, from the time I was born I was strictly prohibited from becoming involved in the business.  My two older brothers carried the burden of working on the farm and my Dad was quoted as saying that no daughter of his was going to shovel chicken shit.

My Mother didn’t participate in the messy labour of chicken farming either.  Her involvement in the business was limited to bookkeeping and payroll administration.  But this didn’t keep her from getting her hands dirty in her own garden.

Unlike my paternal Grandmother’s tightly managed flowerbeds, with manicured shrubbery encircled by geraniums and laser straight rows of stunning gladioli, my Mother’s gardens were free-form.  Plants came and went throughout the season.  Waves of pansies and spring tulips were replaced with petunias and lobelia in the summer, and replaced one more time with kale and chrysanthemums in the fall.  My Mother’s climbing roses bloomed like mad, her hibiscus produced magenta flowers the size of dinner plates and the blue tips of spectacular delphiniums peeked over the top of her backyard fence, looking for all the world like a group of Marge Simpsons were standing on the other side.

Shortly after Craig and I were married, we bought a house in what can only be described as ‘new home wasteland.’  We were one of the first families to move into our new neighbourhood and we were surrounded by construction equipment, dust and debris.  A year later, the grass was finally laid and I couldn’t wait to start planting; I yearned for a beautiful garden like my Mother’s.  With no experience of our own and little time for research, we hired a landscape designer to draw up a plan.  Beyond the hardscaping of patios, fence and large trees which we had professionally installed, we followed a ‘plant by number’ approach.  We simply counted the squares on the grid-paper drawing the landscape designer had given us, measured the distance from fixed objects and dug appropriately sized holes for the plants listed on the plan’s shopping list.

Someone had told me to pretend I was tucking a baby into bed when I was planting things.  So as tenderly as I could, I placed the plants and tried to make them cozy.  I was surprised at how nurturing the cool earth felt in my hands.  Down on my knees
in the dirt, I frequently encountered juicy worms doing the work of turning our clay soil into something better and more than once, I stopped to admire a fat bodied spider and her dewy web stretched between the newly planted cedar trees.

There was nothing my Mother and I enjoyed more, than walking around her garden or mine after a long, harsh winter and marvelling at the emergence of new life.  The hibiscus that thrilled us in the summer looked deader than dead but sure enough on one of our spring inspections we would find a new green bud and our hearts would fill with
new hope.  Tiny, feathery shoots of coreopsis could be spotted emerging from beneath the prior year’s brittle stems and we would each smile to imagine the swath of yellow blossoms to come.  Occasionally, we would mourn a rosebush that had been lost somewhere in the cold stretch between November and March but somehow this only made the survival of everything else seem sweeter.

This spring, Jack and Taylor and I did the spring inspection of our garden.  In prior years, this was the time when I bitterly pulled dead chrysanthemum stems from the soil.  No matter what time of year I planted them, or what variety I chose to buy, they never seemed to survive the winter.  So it was a surprise to find that out of the eight I had planted the prior fall, all eight had survived to spring.  I’d like to think that my Mother somehow had a hand in this.

My Mother taught me that a beautiful garden helps make a house a home.  My garden taught me that nothing stays the same and that no matter how hard we try to freeze a moment in time, it still slips through our fingers.  And together they taught me that no matter what, life goes on.


3 thoughts on “Getting My Hands Dirty

  1. Yes, indeed, life does go on, and on your Mom’s first year anniversary of remembrance, your writing is such a poignant tribute to her memory. While time may slip through our fingers, the memories we choose are forever…thanks for sharing.

  2. Wow. This is by far my most favourite post of yours… This truly hits the heart – thanks for sharing this with us!

  3. Thanks Ola,
    I had planned to post four pieces this week in tribute to my Mom, but was starting to question myself (as I often do!)
    These pieces are a departure from what I normally post and so I wondered if my readers were finding them a bit weird. Too personal? Too much like navel gazing?
    I was so glad to read your comment and know that I have struck a nerve with someone other than myself. I’m going to stop being such a nervous nelly and post the third today and the fourth on Saturday as planned. Thanks for the vote of confidence!

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