Garden of Memories

Every morning I check my clematis to see if it has grown. I see its tender green shoots and they seem frozen in time, although I know they are making their gentle way up and out, curving and winding around the trellis. I watch my peonies just now opening, the fat pink blooms ripe and fragrant.

Every morning I check my clematis to see if it has grown. I see its tender green shoots and they seem frozen in time, although I know they are making their gentle way up and out, curving and winding around the trellis. I watch my peonies just now opening, the fat pink blooms ripe and fragrant. These particular flowering plants are especially dear to me because at my old house in Anchorage I had loved these perennials to a place where I could count on a swath of pinkish purple flowers from my clematis covering the trellis up past my head and multiple fat pink peony blooms that I would cut and make into bouquets for my table.

I have beautiful yellow cala lilies surrounded by bright pink and orange celosia right outside my door which is downstairs of our house. They greet me as I step outside onto the deck. Our greenhouse brims with vegetable plants, which my mother is steadily planting in rows in our raised beds. We have five pots of roses, two of which I’m going to plant in front of the house. We chose ombre blooms this year. I’m filled with anticipation, imagining the gradient colored blooms in a marvelous display. The roses in front will be a gorgeous deep yellow in the center fading to a pale white. The other one is the only solid color, a deep blood red. A rose of love.

We have two lilac bushes out back and I just planted a lilac tree in the front. As a child I had a beautiful purple lilac tree in my yard and I’m excited for this to exist in Alice’s world. My husband just mowed the weeds and thick grasses at the edge of the deck (we have an acre of land) and put up Alice’s play-set. Watching her swing and go down the slide is wonderful. I watch her play among the flowers and behind this beautiful house surrounded by her family and I literally cry tears of joy. It’s by chance this all came together. It’s by love this all happened the way that it did.

When I was digging the plot for the clematis I had to dig out several boulders. There is nothing more satisfying than digging out boulders! You stand on your shovel. You jump up and down. You grab the spade and jab and stab all around it. You hop back up on your shovel. You think about giving up. You’re so tired. And then suddenly there’s a shift. And then another, and another. You’re suddenly filled with energy and you jump up and down on the edges of the shovel and pop! Out comes the boulder. Reaching down and lifting it out is exhilarating. It’s a fantastic feeling. There’s so much wonder in the act of gardening that you don’t realize until you try it. So many things that are actually exciting and difficult and complicated and beautiful.

When my mom first set the seedlings out on tables in the great room under grow lights, she asked me to repot them when they first poked their gentle green heads through the moist earth. I was definitely nervous. Here was new life and I was responsible for ensuring its continued existence. I gathered each tiny green sprout and surrounded it with soil, water and replaced it under the grow lights. They seemed so fragile. To think of them then in comparison to now, they don’t even seem like the same plants. Now they are strong, green and tall, bold. They remind me of children. They start out so fragile and they need so much care. Eventually they become strong and hardy. They still need you though, even if not as much.

As I wander along the deck looking at the flowers I think of my father and how he built the very deck I stand on. I dreamt of him last night. How he loved a good steak but at the end of his life he couldn’t have it, his remaining kidney was unable to process that much protein. In my dream he could have all the meat he wanted but instead he chose to spend time with us. One of my most cherished memories of him is sitting in our sunny living room with my daughter on his lap, reading to her. Now if you know my daughter you know that she doesn’t sit for anyone and especially not at two years old. But my dad had a way with her. She would curl up in his lap and he would read her story after story. Even I couldn’t get her to do that. On that particular afternoon my dad looked up at me while reading and smiled. He had these big white teeth and that smile just beamed. I’ll never forget it. Like the rarest of flowers that blooms for only a little while my daughter had her grandfather in her life before he, like all flowers must, passed away.

I think this is why I love perennials so much. You can keep them alive in your mind and heart until the growing season returns and they once again show their blooms. I have faith in my clematis and my peonies that they will return to me every spring as they did at the Anchorage house. I also keep my father alive as well. His blooms are in my memories of him, the lessons he taught me like how to turn burgers on a grill. The musicality of my children, the brilliant arrogance of my oldest son, the tenacity of my youngest son. And of course, my daughter’s love of books. Most especially Hop on Pop.