I say I’m a self-taught gardener, but that is incorrect. I first fell in love with gardening when visiting a neighbor’s garden. My friend Glennis gave me my first gardening lessons.
Seemingly a strong independent person, the truth is I was an injured bird, not raised but grown up in poverty. I hid a deep reservoir of pain from abandonment and various tortures. Having no interest in pity for myself, I kept busy and found joy in my child and the things I could learn and do.
But injured birds are fragile.
It was over 50 years ago. I hadn’t known Glennis long. Her husband worked with mine. My husband and I purchased a home with a large yard and a small greenhouse. After we settled in, we invited them over for a meal. That was the custom in those days.
After the meal, we walked around the yard. Meandering past a bed of iris, she told me what iris needed to grow and everything about them that I needed to know. I’ll share that gift with you at the end of this story.
Flowering almonds were in bloom, so I know it was spring. They were all dressed in pink while putting on their lovely perennial show. She told me they were expensive and a rare treat where we lived.
Pointing out bush cherries beside the greenhouse, she said how lucky I was as they were a non-demanding plant. Their bright tart cherries were just right for jams and pies.
Walking past a patch of rhubarb, we stood chatting under an enchanting weeping willow. And there we made plans for my first garden. She would give me sets and starts and help me gather everything I needed.
I was an old soul: a woman of the woods. Taught the lore and use of wild plants, leaves, and the bark of trees, I knew of the thorny plants, thistles, and the fruit of gooseberry bushes. Wisdom from plants passed down and through me to mend a wounded heart.
But I knew nothing of cultivating the earth or planting seeds. These things my friend taught me. Growing vegetables, a new world to me. I feared I’d fail and thought if I accepted her help, she would see all too clearly the poor dumb person I was.
That week she invited me to her home. Just the two of us and my son. He was a wonderful child and did not get into mischief. Although she wouldn’t have minded if he did.
I walked with her through her vegetable garden; she told me about beans and peas and potatoes and tomatoes and cucumbers and I felt tears fill my eyes.
She often had a little wrinkle on her cheek as she wore a gentle smile. Sometimes she giggled, but I never felt she laughed at me.
But as she taught me about the different nutritional needs of plants and how what you feed them determined how they would grow, I felt nurtured. I never felt put down. I never felt dumb with her.
And I gardened. And over 50 years later, I garden.
My friend Glennis taught me to garden and tended the fragile garden of my soul as she influenced my life in ways she will never know.
The value of our life is not measured in dollars, but in the seeds of love and understanding we sow every day.
Here is what she taught me about tending iris.
They are an easy flower to grow
plant them on the surface of the earth
where they will grow
their roots will reach down into the ground.
In the Fall feed them a sprinkle
of bone meal and a little
dusting of ashes from the fire
if you’re in the mood.
Some say you must plant them
a certain time of year
but that’s silly talk
plant them anytime — they’ll grow.
They grow thick and the roots will rot
so dig some out every other year,
and plant them elsewhere or
give as gifts to bring a smile.
Not subject to diseases except for rot
and iris bores will eat into them
so just dig them out and cut off any bad
portion with a knife.
— Written for Glennis when she was dying and edited one year after her death.
I tend plants and people from my 120-year-old home and small garden. I see strength in the injured spirit and find significance in the insignificant.