Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Backyard Gardens

When we bought our house eighteen years ago, one of the things we liked about it was the backyard.  It was enclosed by leafy hedges and flowering trees, and there were five colorful flower beds, artfully arranged and carefully maintained.  My mom had always gardened, so I knew a little bit about flowers and vegetables and wasn’t too worried about caring for the gardens.  The former owners of the house were teachers who had no children, and as we found out later, they spent most of the summer months tending the gardens.  The flower beds contained scores of annual flowers and many beautiful, but fussy, perennials.  Taking care of not one, but five flower gardens while taking care of not one, but three children turned out to a BIG job.  I tried hard to maintain what the former owners had started, but I was no match for the time and expertise they possessed.  Little by little, the fussy flowers died out, and when I bought new perennials to grow in their place, I learned to look for "hearty" and "grows well in poor soil" on the label. I tried to keep the kids and the dog and the footballs, Frisbees, and soccer balls out of gardens, but it was a losing battle.  When the kids were young and the backyard was their world, they used to help me garden.  They each had their own garden to care for.  They helped plant and care for the flowers they had picked out, and they cheerfully carted weeds to the compost pile.  As they grew older and busier, and started spending their summers at playground programs, soccer fields, friends' houses, and eventually jobs, their gardening participation dropped off—though one of my fondest memories from that time is when my middle child appeared with a Tupperware cup of lemonade for me while I was working in his (former) garden.  As their lives branched out, mine did, too.  Since they weren’t spending as much time in the backyard, neither was I, and the gardens became weedier and wilder.  Our neighbor in those years was an avid gardener with no children.  Her garden won contests.  It was a blaze of color.  Her feverfew, flax, gaillardia, and poppies looked like they had jumped out of my gardening book and into her yard.  She taught me a lot about flowers and gardening over the years, but maybe the most important lesson she taught me came once when I was despairing over the state of my unkempt gardens, compared to her showpiece.  She looked me straight in the eye and said, “You’re not raising flowers, Mindy, you’re raising children.”  Her words helped me let myself off the hook when it came to the unruly flower beds.  But now that my kids are mostly raised, I’m thinking it’s time to start spending more time in the backyard again—maybe, if I’m lucky, one of my kids will join me or will at least bring me a class of cool lemonade!

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