Sunday, July 3, 2011

Oh, what a garden of delights

Happy 4th of July (a day early). While not a holiday my husband Roger and I go out of our way to celebrate, especially these days with the idiots in Washington (most of you know whom I mean) playing games with our nation's debt limit, we do enjoy seeing others celebrating at family picnics and town fireworks displays. And we're glad for those who are employed that the federal holiday gives them a day off from the grind of "do more with less."

My 4th of July celebration has always been a very personal one: My maternal grandmother Amelia was born on July 4th some time back in the 19th Century, probably in the 1880s. She was an Austrian immigrant who became a naturalized citizen as quickly as she could and to her dying day was proud of her adopted country. While I don't know her birth date, I know of her pride because my mother always reminded me of her mother's pride on July 4th, adding that "Mimi" as she was called by her American friends and family or "Mutzel" as she was called by her Austrian friends, "was a real firecracker."

So the day has arrived when I honor my Austrian-American grandmother who was a formidable gardener.

Already I've been out in my garden this morning to water, weed and spread mulch around the west-facing garden that I restored earlier this summer.

Restored? Yes. After 10 years of traveling during the summer months, Roger and I are staying home for the most part, taking only a couple short camping trips instead of our season-long journeys to the Canadian Maritimes, the American Southwest, Pacific Northwest....

And because we're staying put, I've had the pleasure to rediscover my inner gardener who's been long neglected along with the flowers and shrubs.

What a joy! One I'd almost forgotten. Planning, nursery shopping, digging, planting, even weeding has been pleasurable -- and then to see my new hosta lilies (four varieties) and blue hydrangea come into bloom. Ahhhh! Grossmutter Mimi's genetic legacy is alive and well. You can take the girl out of the garden, but you can't take the garden out of the girl.

Reclaiming my flower beds has been a healing ritual, too. Aching muscles and dirt beneath my fingernails are small dues to pay for the modicum of peace I've felt working in the earth, making things grow out of the grief I've felt at the loss of my brother in March. As I've turned over the soil, carved out holes in which to settle a lilac bush or a pair of columbines, nestled their roots in the ground, and tamped them securely in their new homes, I've laid to rest some of the anger and pain of having lost my brother to alcoholism at such a young age (63). Following in my grandmother's (and mother's!) footsteps, I turn the trowel to wedge out a stone from my heart so that love for the dead has more room to grow.


Preparing Jimmy’s Resting Place

Spring leaps toward summer
and this year after so many
years, I am domesticating
my west-facing garden again,
taming it with hosta lilies,
lilacs, hydrangea, datura.
I perform a cleansing ritual
after one death, hopefully well before
the next deadly inevitability. I dig
in warm earth, drop nasturtium seeds
to give me my season
to accomplish grief
the same way I harvest
misplaced thistles, errant ferns
to reinvent a bed for flowers;
the same way I remove the weeds:
one at a time over time.
Thus, one man gone at a time,
one floral elegy at a time.

First, let me plant my brother’s song
by the arborvitae in the Poet’s Corner
paved with limestone lakestones,
that polished dolomite might anchor ghosts.
Let me perch a plaster boy atop the rocks,
its faux verdigris chipped,
its cupid’s wings and toes missing.
This June may I be his little sister again,
a gardener of brotherly love, but this time
I come to pray for broken garden gnomes
one day at a time, every, every, every
miraculously verdant day at a time.


Let the fireworks begin! I'll be my own self-made firecracker, sizling with delight in an explosion of blooms.