The Backyard Beckons

Before I took a part-time job as an in-house writer at a local school, working in the garden was just that — working, one more chore to do. Of course, once I got started I enjoyed it: the rhythm of weeding, the cool tactile delight of patting seedlings into place, orchestrating window boxes into a symphony of pattern and color. But gardening was nevertheless one more chore to accomplish.

Working three days a week leaves precious little time for everything else I used to do in five. I was dreading adding gardening to spring’s list of things to do. But this afternoon’s spell in the garden was a little piece of heaven, backbreaking heaven, but heaven nonetheless. The azaleas are in bloom, clouds of crimson, orchid and pink. The ajuga has returned, purple spikes framing the azaleas with their zany spires. The dogwoods are in full blossom, pink as summer lipstick. The lilies of the valley are up in profusion, quiet little white bells nodding beneath a quill of green. Coty’s Muguet des Bois (what the French call lilies of the valley) was the first perfume I ever wore. I tucked a sprig behind one ear and spent much of the afternoon shadowed by my ten-year-old self.

One of the rhodies didn’t fare too well. The winter was mild but for whatever reason, a good third to a half of her leaves have been reduced to rust-colored curls. There are anemic flowers here and there. I’m not worried. This happens every few years. She dies down and comes back bigger and better. A good lesson to remember when a harsh season leaves me feeling wilted.

Moving from bed to bed I fed the azaleas. Some of them we planted more than twenty years ago; they are now close to five feet high and seven feet wide. A little touch of my Georgia childhood up here in Michigan, they thrill me with their brilliance every year. No matter how much snow we have, how endless and pervasive the grey skies, I know the azaleas are there waiting to reward me for making it through another winter.

There are the inevitable invaders: some “volunteers,” some mishaps of my own. I am still pulling up sprigs of saponaria, planted for its promise of a pink delicately scented ground cover. Pink, yes. Ground cover yes. Delicately scented, no way. One gardener’s perfume is another’s yuck.

Behind the azaleas, I brush earth from the memorial stone marking where we buried our dog’s ashes. “Beloved McKenzie” it reads. It’s been two years and still we miss her; miss her happy spirit, her bright eyes, her black nose. A garden holds so much: anticipation and creativity; devastation and bounty; renewal and wonder; God’s everpresence. And sometimes in a quiet corner, a garden also holds the perennial reminder of love given boundlessly and missed so very very much.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

11 thoughts on “The Backyard Beckons

  1. Judy BF

    Hi Debra: Beautiful blog entry. There’s a blessing for coming upon a grave for the first time in 30 days. Encountered it when doing research.


  2. Elissa Schwartz

    Dear Debra,

    As always, your poetic use of language adds a unique and lovely layer of perspective to an otherwise routine activity. I love gardening, despite always being behind, always chasing the weeds that grow faster than I can move and despite me pulling out what I believe to be all the roots. Beyond the beauty of the occupants of the garden, I derive pleasure from the instant gratification that I receive once I have throughly cleaned a bed, planted a row of flowers or thinned out overwhelming overgrowth. There are so few things that I do that show me such quick and apparent change as gardening. After a few hours in the garden, I look around and see that one person can make a big difference, even if just in that one person’s yard. Thanks again for sharing your beautiful writing, Debra!

  3. Debra

    McKenzie brought so much happiness to a lot of people. I’m so glad that everyone has enjoyed this little bit of garden with me. I love spring. After the long slog through winter it’s just so heavenly. And the lilacs are blooming here scenting the air with paradise. Enjoy, everyone and thank you for all your wonderful words.

  4. Dondra Maney

    Your personification of the “rhodie” touched my heart. Losing my dad this past year has caused some leaves in my own life–and my mom’s and sisssy’s–to curl. But as you so eloquently wrote, we come back–better, more faith-filled, more grateful than ever. Debra, you have a wonderful gift with words and feelings. I’m glad to have found you and your work!

  5. Ken

    I have many of the same feelings when I escape from the drudgery of my study and its work into the airy, creative space of my garden — the only visual art I seem to have the capability to practice. I’m finally getting somewhere: a perennial garden and rose garden I can be proud of, quite visible from my windows. I added a handsome granite birdbath last fall, a dozen paces from the feeder — inspired by the sight of one at a curve in your backyard — and it has worked wonders, as a prime focal point and a recreational site for the many colorful visitors who’ve only been “eat and fly” customers before.

Comments are closed.