Since about January, I have been caught up in what I call a gardening craze. I looked out on my backyard one morning, it was dry and leafless and cold as all gardens must look in the dead of winter, and the ground was one big dirt patch, not helped out much by our ever-pacing border collies. And I realized I hadn’t the faintest clue about how to garden–how to make something magical, how to grow flowers, anything aside from the occasional random flower planting.
For my birthday in October, the Jones and Jessica and the Standerfers bought me a lovely olive tree. It sat in its pot on our front porch until March, losing all its leaves and looking nearly dead, and I realized it was time to plant something. Little did I know that once I began I couldn’t stop. On the coldest day of this year (and admittedly, in this year’s weirdly prolonged Texas heat drought, there were only two days in which frost hit), I was outside in my winter clothes and shovel and digging around and looking at the plants that we’d inherited all over our yard and some kind of wild thing came over me. I liked being cold, I liked digging in the dirt, I liked the weird toil and grunt of tackling the earth.
So now, four months later, I have composted, pruned rose bushes, fertilized, built flower beds, planted grass seed, built rock borders–just to name a few things… and not everything is working, but already in one short season I have discovered the weird magical joy of watching things like delicate miniature calla lilies pop up around my St. Francis statue. You plant something, it grows. I don’t know, this miracle really fascinates me.
The hard part for me is how to achieve that elusive quality of mystery. My favorite gardens are very mysterious–you don’t know where they start and where they end, and you don’t quite know how they got there. You just walk in and there’s something wild and something unknowable going on. My favorite garden for miles around is next to this little house not far from us. Somehow, on a small plot of land, they were able to create this mysterious little wildflower universe, full of uneven scattered flowers and bunches of grass, and dead tree trunks, and in the spring and summer it is just swarming with butterflies and every sort of bird. You walk by it and all you see is this fluttering and the sun sparkling across it. It is truly a magical little universe, and most people might not even notice it because it is far from obvious. Still, it didn’t just get there by accident…. and there are days when I have driven by it, trying not to look like an intruder by stopping long enough to just breathe it in, when I see an older woman standing in the driveway looking out like a farmer over this little field and I see that God is like that, too. He didn’t just plant and then say, see ya later. He continues to come back and admire the work–the work–that he did… and sometimes prune, sometimes water, sometimes add a new color, and so on…
So my gardening aesthetic has taken on a sort of ‘how to create my own little mystery’ yet learn something about the gardening conditions here in Texas and also learn how the Father grows things over time. Already my backyard is untamed, but sometimes untamed in a ridiculous way. Certain things overcrowd other things, some critters eat where they are not supposed to eat, vines consume trees, on and on. And although I like things wild, I am learning to be of the philosophy that things don’t just happen they way they are supposed to. It does need care and encouragement, even to resume its wildness.
But in the meantime, I am becoming a connoisseur of wildflowers… we took a recent trip to the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, and if you ever come here or live here, you must go. It is a magical universe. My new favorite flower is the purple coneflower–it is really tall and ridiculously pink and not just a quiet ordinary wildflower–it makes you take notice. (This flower is also what’s known as echinacea, so it can be grown for all sorts of medicinal virtues, too.)
But there are also exotic plants that behave with some mystery. Like this iris–it’s called the walking apostle iris–I like that. When we first moved in this house a year ago, our neighbor gave us a moving in plant that, for lack of knowing what it was or what to do with it, got plugged next to the side of our house. But this year I walked outside to see it blooming, and here was this tiny delicate and very elaborate blossom, almost like an orchid. The next day it was gone! A few weeks later, another bloomed popped up, and sure enough the next day it was gone. It’s like you have to be lucky to catch it. I like that. That some things aren’t just beckoning you with their neon signs.