Renewing My Gardening Life


Thanks to a wonderful young man, I am back.

My wild “multiflora roses”.

I think the first time I put my hands in the dirt to grow a flower, I was 19 years old. I turned some soil, put in some seeds and enjoyed an entire summer of beautiful morning glories growing up the backyard fence.

I tried to turn hard city clay into a garden in our first apartment but had little success. Gradually, over the years, I learned about composting and aerating and the importance of using native plants. I became a joyful gardener in my mid-thirties, when we bought this house in the country. The house came with a big yard, a ton of trees, and not much else.

Slowly, painstakingly, I added some perennials and some flowering bushes. A few tiger lilies from my parents’ house soon turned into hundreds of them growing in garden beds, in a little “flower fence” and in the woods where I threw the ones I thinned out. A couple of small, scrawny rhododendron slowly turned into three magnificent specimens that are now far too large to prune.

The tiniest stick of a little lilac, given to us by good friends, is now the grandparent of no fewer than five full-grown bushes.

I love my yard.

It is overgrown, filled with “volunteers” like the tall phlox and wild columbine that grace us every year. I love it because it is untamed and wild. It isn’t trimmed to within an inch of it’s life and it is the happy home to hundreds of rabbits, chipmunks, squirrels, moles, voles and more birds than I can begin to identify.

I love it.

But I can no longer take care of it all the way that it needs to be nurtured. My muscles are weak or achy or both. My shoulder has bursitis. My hands are arthritic and the combination of age, Fibromyalgia and a crazy tumor on my acoustic nerve have rendered me fairly useless in the garden.

And that fact has saddened me more than I can say. I walk outside and look at the overgrown clumps of tiger lilies, the unkempt groups of fox tails, and ever-spreading evening primrose. Instead of feeling the call to get my hands in the dirt that I have felt for decades, I feel instead a call to make a cup of tea, settle in the rocker and feel badly about myself.

In the face of all of this gardening chaos, I broke down and followed my husband’s suggestion. “Let’s hire a teenager to do some of this,” he said, not realizing that I would take that comment like a blow to the heart. Too old to garden, I thought. Too old to take care of my own flowers.

So I reluctantly put out an inquiry on my local social media page. Most of the responses were from professional landscapers, who were simply out of our price range. I waited, hoping for some kind soul to recognize my pain and come to my rescue.

And he did.

As so often happens in my life, my rescuer comes in the form of a child. An almost grown child, but a child. At the tender age of 13, my young helper, whose name is Marcello, has not only eased the heavy burden of dealing with the yard, but he has also reignited my belief that I CAN still do it, as long as I have some help.

Marcello and I spent two hours together today, pruning and trimming and digging up hopelessly overgrown tiger lilies. We chatted, we joked, we worked side by side. To be honest, I spent most of the time giving directions, and my young hero spent his time actually doing the work.

It was, for me, a truly uplifting day. I am so happy with the work that we did together! So happy with my beautiful yard again! And Marcello asked me such good questions that my inner teacher was thrilled. We talked about perennials and worms and composting and lilacs and school and teaching and technology.

I felt healthy while he was here, and that has become a rare pleasure.

Tonight my right arm hurts, my back is aching, my leg muscles are shaky. But as I stand here in my window, looking out at my gardens in the sunset, I am so pleased.

Hooray for young people. Hooray for their questions, their strength, their humor and their willingness to help.

If I have any hope for our country’s future, it is because of young people like Marcello, who probably doesn’t have an inkling of what is presence means to me.