Bring Me a Shrubbery
Updated: Nov 6
In our yard, outside the window bench where I sit to meditate each morning, the house is hemmed in with azalea bushes that bloom bright purple for a few weeks every spring. They’re a little jagged.
Another azalea, a few yards from the house, has a ruby-colored bougainvillea—no, it’s a crepe myrtle—blooming tall right in the middle of it, shooting another eight feet up, plus a vine of morning glories climbing the crape myrtle, plus some wispy ferns growing in amongst the vine, plus, for real, a trail of Spanish moss. It bothers me.
This is my mother’s house, my mother’s garden, in central Florida. I don’t garden. If I had a house of my own and a garden, I would hire someone to tend it. I would want to hire a British man, not just for the accent, but because I prefer the precision of flat boxwood hedges and flat one-inch lawns and perfectly round topiaries and white roses that climb on orderly trellises. And an espaliered pear, please.
Mom’s gardening is vibrant, rather than precise. Her garden sprawls even when it is contained behind curving rows of bricks: a hodge-podge of red geraniums next to succulents on one porch, blue hydrangeas and plumbagoes around the lemon tree. A raised bed of dahlias has spaghetti squash (“an experiment!”) creeping underfoot.
Mom even enjoys it when “gifts” appear on her land, plants randomly deposited via bird droppings. That’s where the crepe myrtle came from, she says. She does pull out invasive species, but anything native that the pollinators go for, she welcomes. Happy bees and butterflies and hummingbirds spin around her yard. I’m the one who wipes the sink basin dry when the dishes are done, who finds comfort in properly folding one’s underthings, as per Marie Kondo.
I’m trying to meditate here. I’m trying to be calm. And wherever I look—outside to the yard, inside the sunroom, in myself, at my life—there are things to fix, often things I can’t really fix. So I sit quietly for a half-hour every morning as the sun rises, and breathe and notice and try to relax with my desire to fix things.
It’s not a compulsion, not an obsession. I can be okay with some amount of disorder. And it’s not like I think there is only one right way to do things; I just appreciate the clarity of a good system.
The bookshelves could be alphabetized or organized by height and color, but I like genre groupings. In my room, I keep yoga and meditation books together, then Christian theology texts, then self-help books, then poetry. The spice rack could be alphabetized, too, but I like having the most-used items up front or on an open shelf. Salt, white pepper, peppercorn medley in a grinder, ginger, garlic, paprika.
Mom has her own way of meditating, when we go visit the ocean. She breathes in as the waves go out and exhales as they come rushing back to shore. Clears the mind, she says. It’s true.
We go to the beach together every few weeks, or on a paddle; we walk the dog by the river. We don’t talk much once we get there; we tend to go different directions or at different paces. We give each other space. We’re quiet people, really. Just want to be outdoors and enjoy it our own ways. Later we’ll compare photos we took on our phones.
Mom loves gardens and gardening, always has. She’s in the local Garden Club, though she talks about quitting. Not a joiner, really, Mom.
I grew up in her gardens. In Oregon, we grew carrots and corn; in Virginia, more flowers—zinnias, I remember, and marigolds. I liked picking out seed packets, the rattle of the seeds in paper. The codes to tell you what to plant where: full sun, part sun, full shade.
On the other side of the house, outside the glassed-in front porch, is a tiny white heritage rosebush named Prosperity, Mom’s first gift to me after my divorce, besides the gift of rescue, of refuge. Our first act together, after moving me out of Kentucky, her driving most of the way because my hands were shaking like Betty Draper’s.
She’s about to retire, finally, at seventy-two. Selling her business, or at least, the building, hoping to. Planning to spend more time outdoors, kayaking, hiking, traveling. She is a bit concerned that she’ll be sad, a little lost without the identity work has given her. I’m glad I can at least be with her during this transition, encourage her as she has done for me through mine.
We take turns watering Prosperity, pruning her leaves when they wither. We find her extra-special mulch and fertilizer. We’re trying to cultivate something here.