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A Time to Bloom

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When my husband and I set up connubial shop on his family ranch so many years ago, I laid claim to a garden plot 100 by 50 feet, surrounded it with wire fencing and wood posts to keep out the varmints, and then garnished the perimeter with a hedge of frilly pink roses. We laid out growing areas outlined by river rock with a grid of flagstone paths. It was quite beautiful, as well as functional, and so I entered it in the KVIE PBS Victory Garden Contest. Although disappointed that I came in fourth place and didn’t make it on the show, I’ll never forget the excitement of sharing iced tea and my famous zucchini bread with the executive producer, John Pelrine, under the white gazebo my husband had so graciously built.

Gardening has always been a major part of my life, probably consuming more of my time than any of my other occupations. As I dragged around my hose, eating watermelon and spitting out the seeds, I dreamt of the giant, green-striped fruits that would appear there the next year as if by magic. Now, mind you, I have a green thumb, so anything I drop into the soil grows. My mother-in-law once said that if I stuck my toe in the ground, it would grow (I do believe that is the only compliment she ever gave me). Naturally, I inherited this talent from my Gramma Filomeo, whose golden calendulas and fragrant sweet peas inspired me as a young child. During events of sadness and times of stress, I would find solace among the hollyhocks and peace in the neat rows of black-eyed peas. Pruning the roses and pulling weeds was cathartic and a good hour or two wielding a hula hoe would always put me in better spirits.

I cherished my garden and naively believed that we would nurture each other forever. I even told my family that when I died I wanted to be cremated and my ashes strewn among the flagstone and flowers. Yet Father Fate had different plans, and I was to be uprooted like so many unwary weeds I’d ripped from my beds. Circumstances forced me to move, leaving all my years of hard work behind. I had no idea how I would survive emotionally and physically without my beloved garden. The future looked grim as I contemplated having to start over from scratch.

As devastating as the upheaval was, I was blessed with the opportunity to move back to the country home where I was raised. The farmhouse was in good shape, having been loved and renovated by numerous family members over the years, since my parents had moved into town. But the fruit orchard had mostly been neglected; many of the trees my dad planted had perished and some that were still hanging on were badly in need of pruning and a good drink of water. There were no flowers left, save one scraggly rose, a couple of camellias and two ancient lilac bushes. Thankfully, during my niece’s tenure, her husband had built three raised wooden beds that would become the focal point of my future gardens.

Standing in the dejected orchard that first week I moved in, my head swam with a whole profusion of summer color and fragrances—baskets brimming with aubergine eggplant and spicy red and green peppers; wooden lug-boxes full of ripe, golden peaches; and rows of rainbow-hued zinnias and sunny marigolds. All the memories of my childhood rushed in and I swear I could smell the basket of tomatoes that was waiting there for us on the step the day my family first moved in so many years ago. It was left there by the neighbor lady up the road, Mrs. Berglund, who also passed on to my mom the best bread and butter pickle recipe ever.

But there was much work to be done if I was to have my own tomatoes by June. I’d already started them, along with peppers, eggplant and zucchini, in a sunny January window. January also saw the reinstatement of several of the lost fruit trees, as I planted bare-root varieties of apple, cherry, peach, pear and persimmon. The three raised beds would need some overhauling, as the previous occupants had limited knowledge about proper garden soil, and a whole new plot would have to be tilled and fenced to keep out my hens. In early March, after the rains finally calmed down, I was lucky enough to have a neighbor bring over his bobcat to rip the hard, fallow ground and blessed to have another bring me a load of used potting soil to soften it up. And, although I normally don’t take crap off anyone, I was more than happy to take several loads from my dairy friend up the road.

I awaited the arrival of spring with patience and understanding that, not only was Rome not built in a day, but planting my veggies too early could result in death by late frost. As I plotted and tilled, hoed and raked my rows, not once did I ever lament the loss of my old garden. I actually had a serious epiphany: I realized I had become stagnant. Although my old garden was ever-changing with the seasons and new varieties, there was no room for growth. It was also a metaphor of my life—it was time to move on, time to take root in a new location. I had done all I could and the possibilities at my new home were endless and exciting.

This spring, I am enjoying the fragrance of my new roses mingled with the old lilacs. The cabbage and cauliflower in the raised beds are beginning to bolt and the new fruit trees have blossomed with the promise of summer abundance. It’s a constant struggle trying to keep the girls out of my poppies and petunias but I am determined to cover every inch of space with some kind of flower or fruit. I plan to plant honeysuckle at the end of the driveway to welcome guests and to sow sunflowers by the chicken coop to distract the finches from my Swiss chard. And, well, one can never have enough roses. Digging through a bucket of old garden stuff that migrated with me, I found a forgotten package of wildflower seed. What are the possibilities that if I throw out handfuls wherever I walk, something might just take root, sprout, and possibly bloom?

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