Old Euclid drew a circle
On a sand-beach long ago.
He bound it and enclosed it
With angles thus and so.,
His set of solemn graybeards
Nodded and argued much
Of arc and of circumference,
diameter and such.
A silent child ;stood by them’
From morning until noon
Because they drew such charming
Round pictures of the moon.
(Vachel Lindsay, "Euclid")
I have lived in this house for almost twenty years now. But only upon retirement, three years ago, did it become my mission to grow here. In 2003, I retired to stay home, to retreat to my back yard and cultivate my garden. That autumn, my transformation to retirement marked the beginning of my back yard’s transformation into My Garden
My love of gardening recalls my childhood, where my over-busy mother somehow found time to secretly transfer to me her mysterious love of living things. She saw beauty in nature, and she transformed it with love, and she handed that super power down to me. She taught me that the world would be a better place if each of us took more care with what we alone did, and worry less about what mischief the rest of the world is making.
But, being a very busy wife, mother, and daughter-in-law, she gave me the theory but little application. I knew what I loved. I did not know how to grow it. Before undertaking to become a full time gardener at the age of 56, I had been bitten intermittingly with the gardening bug while I worked for a living. Perhaps the love is encoded into the maternal mitochondrial DNA. Perhaps it is a vestigial trait evolved to insure agrarian survival in times when hunting surrendered to gathering. Perhaps, the trait is expressed only after ageing past human reproductive period. Perhaps it is the catholic ethic of work first, then play. Perhaps I attempted to revert to childhood inspirations and re-create my mother’s garden.
Regardless of the cause: many lilacs and lilies of the valley were sacrificed so I could learn the apparently obvious: that I live in a dry desert, that I can still learn the seasons, and that I can have a beautiful, bountiful garden of my own.
I learned that I could never transplant my imagination garden into my life now. Over the years, I not only failed to transplant the familiar plants my mother taught me to love. I failed to learn to decipher the subtle climatic warnings of summer and winter. I learned this is not the land of endless summer. The subtle seasons of Southern California plant hardiness zone 9a, would require the rest of my lifetime to master, and I have so much to unlearn about plant hardiness zone 7a.
I have learned that some things can survive transplanting from dreams into reality. There is peace where all shades of wisteria threatening to engulf several areas. My love for chrysanthemums is now matched by some skill in cultivating them as perennials here. My mother would love them and recall her own small mum garden outside the basement recroom window, carefully tucked in beneath a winter blanket of raked leaves. I have more variety, and have cultivated some that she only showed me in Chinese paintings. Cultivating your garden will heal your soul.