Hope Blooms at Four O’clock
Putting down roots doesn’t always come easy
A year after we moved into our dream house, we realized the previous owner’s gardening aspirations far surpassed our own. With our new tractor, we moved small boulders and ripped out acres of weed cloth. We dug out the old growth and pulled barrels full of weeds. When it was all done, we sat back on the porch swing and surveyed our work. Pride was mixed with exhaustion, a fair amount of sweat, and dried mud as we sat there taking full advantage of the sultry evening breeze.
As the sun fell lower in the sky, something magical began to happen. The last of the old plantings was a leafy bush with tightly closed buds. I left it there beside the porch, thinking it might surprise us with its identity. As the little hand showed half-past five on my watch, striated blooms in pastel yellow and bright fuchsia opened suddenly releasing a fine fragrance as they tilted their faces up to soak in the last of the sun.
A little time spent on Google told us these plants were called Four O’clocks. I found it endearingly ironic that our little Four O’clocks bloomed at 5:30. By 8:00, they were gone again until the next evening.
As any experienced gardener knows, Four O’clocks are a hardy bunch. They can withstand the heat of a Texas summer, the torrential downpours of spring, and even the hard freezes of winter. Because of this, we spent weeks helping to propagate the Four O’clocks in every inch of the vacant flowerbed. They inspired hope in us as we began life in our new home after a series of devastating personal setbacks during the previous couple of years.
The vibrant plants were so seductive in the beginning, much like the quiet country nights full of stars backed by nature’s soundtrack. But much like we would discover about our dream home, there was a darker side to the pretty flora.
See, Four O’clocks are wildly invasive. They took over the flowerbeds with lightning speed, killing indiscriminately like a neon-colored tsunami. It snuffed out my garden Basil, my Forsythia, two Gardenia plants, and my Hydrangeas. It took over hose caddies, drain holes, escaped the carefully constructed borders of our flowerbeds, and even crept up through the slats in the porch. Even Round-Up was no match for the deeply sewn bulbs of creeping rose-scented death. What I once thought of as a beacon of hope had become a dark blight on my landscape.
In Year Three, I ripped and pulled and sprayed everything in my badly timed flowerbeds until only brown earth showed between the house and the rocky border. And still, by the next spring, the Four O’clocks were back like a clingy ex-lover stalking through the yard and climbing up to peep in our windows.
The country nights soured just as quickly as the sickeningly sweet floral scent of our Five-Thirties. The coyote howls, the random screeches, and the frenzied sounds of skittering and scurrying made my skin crawl. I jumped with each random gunshot, of which, in the country, there are plenty. The once pleasant country breeze stifled and turned teeming with a fog of man-eating insects. Each closet, rock, and crawlspace became a potential home to poisonous spiders and slithering serpents.
I began to miss the sounds of city traffic, screaming sirens, and people talking too loudly outside my bedroom window. I missed container gardens and sidewalks and Doorbuster sales at overcrowded department stores. Unlike the prolific flowers, I just couldn’t seem to bloom where I’d been planted.
Our last night on the ranch, we sat on the porch swing once again surrounded by the fleeting beauty of the majestic and overgrown Four O’clocks. The showy blooms of fragrant promise glowed against the gloom of an evening rain shower. For the first time in years, I could see their beauty again. I felt a tiny pang of regret for giving up on it all, despite how hard I’d tried. Much like a failed marriage, I could look back on the beginnings and see where it all went wrong.
I really thought back then that I could make a life at the ranch, that I could be happy there. I thought I’d change, that I’d learn to love gardening, diesel-fueled metal behemoths, and that particular darkness of a country sky unlit by city streetlights. I thought I’d become a real farm wife and pick flowers and make wild berry cobblers.
I did eventually learn to drive a tractor, to identify and kill a bad snake, and to use a judicious amount of bug spray on summer nights. I made that wild berry cobbler, picked the poison-barbed pasture flowers, and learned to survive the solitude and the silence. But, instead of changing into the country girl my husband had hoped for, life there had simply changed me into a lost and lonely soul. Unlike my mother, who had been a shining example of the old adage “bloom where you’re planted,” I’d only wilted and faded in the hard, hard ground until I barely resembled the bright thing that had arrived on a late summer day over a decade ago.
I weeded the flowerbeds one last time a few weeks ago, just before our house hit the market. I dug up several thriving Four O’clock bulbs and transplanted them again to the vacant spots in the ground where a harsh winter had taken its toll. Our house sold on the very first day. The realtor commented on my gardening skills. If only she’d known about me and about those damned Four O’clocks that stubbornly bloomed at 5:30, resisted poison, and persevered long after I’d given up.
At 45, I’m homeless and have no idea what lies ahead. For as much as I have always envied my friends for their nomadic and fit-it-all-in-a-knapsack ways, it is not in my person to behave in such a way. I like neat and tidy. I like things to be where they belong. Like the flowers. Like me.
Sure, we’ll find a house one day soon and fill it with our belongings. Maybe someday, a year from now, maybe longer, it will feel like a home. I refuse to believe that uprooting our lives and transplanting them in new ground could only lead to heartbreak. I am hardy like the pink and yellow blooms, tough inside like the rock-hard bulbs. I yearn to grow against all odds and reach for the sun.
A day before we left home for good, I plucked a bright stem off the bush and held it to my nose. A decade ago, it held the scent of promise, of new beginnings, of home sweet home. Over the years, I’d forgotten its sweet perfume. I’d forgotten those early days before our paradise became ill-fitting and ill-suited to our new normal. And for the first time since that initial discovery, I could smell hope in the brilliantly hued petals at Four O’clock and 5:30.