I was reading lately that gardening fills a void for some women as they mature and become “empty nesters.” This is a term I personally loathe but it’s an economical way to get the point across. As I was kneeling in my garden today, gratefully breathing in the heady scent from my two lilac trees and allowing myself to pause, whenever I liked really, to admire the iridescent navy-blue throats of the grackles that everyone seems to despise but me or to visit with the tiny toad who crossed my glove and then became very still, one foot up, one foot down, in case I had seen him (which I had and was delighted) I thought how different this experience was from an earlier version of my-gardening-self some ten years ago when it was imperative to get those vegetables planted, perennials divided and seeds planted in a kind of dizzying Operation Desert Storm long weekend which bore no resemblance to the calm, contemplative, almost Zen-like experience I enjoyed today. I think my new self is infinitely superior to this frenzied person from my past who will lose all interest in the garden once August is upon her and will consider having a covert beer outside much more appealing than weeding raised beds full of herbs that have now gone to seed and were never included in a pot au feu or charming potato salad after all. But do I do all this out of a need to nurture something else other than a child? Not at all – it’s just a tranquil, satisfying practice and I use that word purposefully.
In point of fact, I never actually consider myself to be a proper gardener because despite all my reading and faithful listening to others, I just end up going with my intuition and often forget what I did (or what worked!) the year before. (I do have a gardening journal but it’s not nearly as fastidious as it might be; in fact, like my brain it’s a bit flighty and therefore spectacularly unhelpful…) I do however have many friends and a particularly amazing sister-in-law who have shared vast quantities of gardening secrets and advice with me – and excellent donations from their own gardens – but still, I feel I am not in that Special Club of those who somehow always know the Latin names and how many petals certain things have and can capably order from a seed catalogue and coax things to germinate in tiny yogurt pots.
That confessed, I still aspire to a garden like Virginia and Leonard Woolf had at Monks’House: a tangled, fragrant English garden that likely smells of violets and fresh earth and combines the deep blues and soft oranges of a Marc Chagall painting effortlessly and remains a sanctuary of fruit trees and roses, always seeming to maintain itself. To wander there would feel like a flannel blanket to the soul.
I need to keep trying but today was still quite wonderful.