Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Good Aspects of “Bloom Where You're Planted”

Platitudes can be helpful when they're used well and when both parties understand what they're meant to communicate. Much like pictures, they can encompass and encapsulate more meaning that just the words in-and-of-themselves. They're verbal shorthand that can sometimes be more direct and concise than long discussions, and they're especially helpful when one party doesn't have a lot of emotional energy to stop and listen to a long explanation. We can all imagine a tenacious flower like a dandelion that grows in a tiny bit of soil that has inadvertently collected in a crack in a sidewalk. Sometimes life requires our tougher nature to prevail.

I remember when Mary Englebright's graphic arts became quite popular, and the picturesque phrase became a useful phrase for her theme of gardening. If you're safe in the place where you find yourself, figuring out how to thrive where life plants you, it's a lovely idea. When you're covered in mud, before a long soak in the tub after a day of gardening, the picture of the promise of burgeon buds and blooms keeps you going. As mentioned in the previous post, I think that it can be a great example of what that verse in Philippians means when it says to think about goodness to foster contentment.

But HOW do you do it?

How does one bloom where they're planted? This became a theme for me for a good ten years, especially when I left a house with gardens everywhere with rich, sandy soil in Maryland to move to a homestead of ten acres of caliche limestone clay in South Texas. If I needed to plant something there, I had to take a pick axe to dig a hole and had to bring soil from somewhere else to cultivate anything besides cedar trees and sand burrs. I didn't even have enough soil in many places to plant agave.

My kitchen there was dark and dank, seemingly an afterthought to those who designed the house. One of my first home projects involved stripping the colonial blue wallpaper off the kitchen walls, and I painted the garden that I wanted on the walls. We had plenty of humming birds there, but I no longer had the trumpet vine that I prized so much. So I painted them. I thought of being “fruitful,” too, as I was just around thirty years old and was still hoping that I would have a baby or two.

I painted my blooms and a grape vine on the walls of my home and mimicked the peachy glow along the blue edges of the Texas sunset that I would watch on my journey back from the city. I focused on the beauty that I found there and created for myself a garden in the desert where the soil would crack, desiccated by the summer heat. I looked up to the sky and out over the Hill Country to transcend the many native things that had stings and stickers and spines.

Just the act of bringing light and joy into my kitchen helped me, and I invested in what life had given me as my soil there. I was proud of the decorating project which I planned and executed. It was imperfect, but having never painted before, I was very satisfied with what I'd done. I'd made my own oasis and stream in the desert with determination and paint and time. It helped to inspire me to take that pick axe to carve out some places for new life outside. At least once a month, I brought soil, peat, and mulch back with me from the city. I'd raid small garden centers for bargains out of season. And I built a place for myself as though I would stay there for the rest of my life.

My Desert

There is a verse in the Bible that talks about the desert blooming like the rose, and I even looked for the flower that the old King James Version translated as a “rose.” It's actually a small, purple crocus, but the conditions there would not support that plant. I planted other purple flowers, though. I cultivated a beautiful crop of drought tolerant sage that bloomed in the full sun without a lot of support. I planted a Texas Mountain Laurel as well, hoping that in time, it would hide an old fence post and provide shade for my air conditioner unit while gracing the landscape with it's gorgeous purple blooms in that first blush of spring. The flowers even smell like yummy grape soda.

I lived there for seven years, and the only decorative plants outside when we moved in were a ill-placed Prickly Pear and a single pink rose that was lanky and odd. The rose was placed well, at least, right in the middle of the porch off the master bedroom against a stretch of limestone wall that desperately needed landscaping help. They had a dog that would dig holes, and there were two large holes near that rose. (Unfortunately, I couldn't use them for anything because they were in crazy places.) I'm surprised that the exposure didn't kill that rose by exposing the little soil there to more heat, sun, and the predictable summer drought.

I planted jasmine astride that crazy rose, hoping that it would eventually help to fill up the space. It made for a nice contrast against the nearby sage blossoms and foliage. I didn't want just more of the same old stuff. I don't know how that poor rose survived, and I had little hope for it. It produced one or two pink blossoms every year, and I don't know how I ever would have removed it if I'd wanted to do so. The plant tunneled its roots against the foundation of the house. I hoped that the jasmine would also do the same. It was faster growing and could vine more quickly so that it would render more cover than a larger shrub.

Every year, I pruned the rose, trying to train it away from a sprawling, leggy crazy mess into something more condensed that could support some decent blooms. It continued to disappoint me, but I was thankful that it was at least planted in the center of that section of the house since there was just a single plant. I could work with it. I followed the rules in my Rodale Organic Gardening book for pruning roses and mulched the daylights out of it. It seemed to be healthy and rugged. The main branches were thick and strong. I talked to it, too, and I told it that it needed to bloom to feed the hoards of migrating humming birds.

My Rose

We eventually moved away, and even the most positive and optimistic Texan who endures as one of my most favorite people in the world admitted that after so much time, life for us there became increasingly worse instead of better. I did all that I could to bloom where I was planted and to help my husband lay roots and grow. But there never seemed to be enough soil or water or good, lasting opportunities. It was a place of snakes and scorpions – literally – and stinging things. I still get a rush of adrenalin as an alert if I see something dark, high up on a wall or ceiling, even after more than a dozen years after moving away.

When we had a garage sale before we moved away, I'd forgotten about that rose in front of the house. I spent so much more time trying to nurture the new and more promising plantings I'd made, digging and fighting, with blood, sweat, and tears to get them to grow. I'd worked over time to make the place more pleasant and appealing.

I was very shocked, but I took it as an affirmation that I'd made the most of the opportunities that I had there. At least twenty people who came to the sale made a comment about the beautiful rose bush, all in it's springtime glory of May. I'd all but forgotten about it in the process of preparing to move away, taking it for granted as something to downplay which had only produced two or so blooms each year. After the first several comments, I walked around to the front of the house for a moment to see what on earth everyone was talking about. 

That thing was full of blossoms and buds and was blooming beautifully in a way that I'd never dreamed. I didn't even notice, but my desert home began to bloom – and with roses, no less. No one was more surprised than I, and I was glad that I never gave up hope for that crazy thing. My desert blossomed with a rose, like a rose. I had tried. I apparently succeeded on some level, perhaps. I smiled. Deep inside.