Saved by Gardening
Age Nine. Massachusetts, 1953
Tiny pale green carrot leaves, like miniature feathers, had pushed through the soil. Miniscule beet foliage, deep green with blood-red veins, and minute pea plants seeking a place to climb with petite tendrils reaching out, captured my attention as I weeded next to all these babies at the ready in their respective rows. I loved the smell of freshly-turned soil and marveled at how sunlight and water could make the seeds I’d planted about two weeks ago begin their lives. I felt the morning sun on my back as I crouched down, my bare toes curled in the dirt, and my fingers brown with earth. I was totally immersed in the task before me—a job that I loved and took me away momentarily from my father’s cruelty.
Ants, garden spiders, and various beetles were my immediate companions as they scurried to and fro seeming to have purpose as they moved quickly, especially if I tried to capture one. I heard blue jays call their strident “Thief, Thief!” Robins were not afraid to stand near me, cock their heads to the ground, move a bit, repeat the motion, and finally, with their beaks, pull a worm from the dirt.
The vegetable garden was edged with recently planted zinnias, petunias, and a border of alyssum and marigolds. I loved contemplating the variety of color and scent later summer would bring to the edges of the maturing vegetables. I was at home in the garden. I knew what to do. I did it well, and could see the results of my labor. It was very satisfying work even when I was only nine.
Without warning, his work-boot crushed into my side as he hollered, “You imbecile! You idiot! You should’ve finished already! A worm could crawl faster over the ground you’ve covered. You should be done and picking blueberries by now. You moron! I guess I can’t expect much from a good-for-nothing jack-o-lantern like you!”
My side felt like fire as I moaned in the dirt. “Get up and get going before I give you something to really cry about!” he shouted as he grabbed a handful of my hair and pulled me up. The pain in my side made it hard to breathe. I held my breath and stifled tears as I knew crying only would make it worse.
When I looked back at my childhood from an adult perspective, I realized that my father’s rage did not deter my interest in gardening. My husband and I first lived in city apartments where there was no opportunity to garden, so houseplants gave me blooms, beautiful foliage, and even fruit. Whenever we lived with a bit of outdoor soil, I planted a garden. Once I even dug up the foundation planting of a townhouse where we lived, and seeded it with squash, green beans, and tomatoes. (I do not recommend this!) Wherever we owned a home, the garden was always paramount: vegetables, small fruit, and of course flowers. Over the years I planted my favorites, bulbs such as tulips (rabbits ate those in Colorado), iris (my number one favorite), lily-of-the-valley, and daffodils. The dry Colorado climate convinced me to limit my gardens to xeriscape perennials.
Flowers revived my spirit and helped heal my soul. Flowers helped restore my mind broken by ugly shouting words. Blossoms filled almost all my senses with their visual beauty, their wonderful fragrances, and their beckoning to be picked. Though blooms could not be heard, I felt as though they spoke through bees that buzzed them and hummingbirds that sipped their nectar.
From buzzing bees, sprouting seeds, and blooming iris, I truly was saved by gardening.