I never quite, really remember the exact blue of my favorite iris, so each spring, when she first blooms, I am as surprised by her luminous beauty as I was the first time I saw that blue.
The same thing will happen when my oldest plant, a big, strong, cadmium yellow daylily, blooms in a few weeks. That plant began as a nameless variety my mother planted near the porch after we moved to Indianapolis when I was ten. I made sure when I was twenty it made the move to our next home, in Pennsylvania, and put it by a window well of the room I slept in that last summer home from college. Half of it went with me to my first Cincinnati home after college, planted at the base of a telephone pole in completely unsuitable soil. Half of it then moved with me to the next house outside of Lebanon, Ohio, near the vegetable garden I started, then half of it came back to Cincinnati with me to my current home and has enjoyed its place near the creek for 12 years. But it has moved along again, half of it staying along the creek, half of it already transplanted into the garden of what will soon be my next home. What amazes me is that the planting around the telephone pole, done in 1977, is still there and blooms like crazy each summer. 37 years later. Vigorous and about to bloom its surprising school bus yellow again. I love imagining that all of the daylily’s previous homes still have the half I left behind each time I moved on. I love the idea that transitions can include what was, what is, and what is, as yet, unknown, all at the same time.
These kinds of transitions seem extra clear to gardeners, it seems, particularly when life’s biggest challenges come along. I recently read Mister Owita’s Guide to Gardening – How I Learned the Unexpected Joy of a Green Thumb and an Open Heart by Carol Wall. Her memoir focuses on how she, a non-gardener who is actually afraid of flowers, and Giles Owita, a Kenyan and master gardener, become friends. As each face a daily life filled with uncertainty and requiring courage, Giles Owita transforms her yard into a garden and transforms her life. In the face of life-threatening illness or grief from the absence or loss of loved ones, Wall and Owita find connection through the essential questions such experiences bring. What is most amazing about her memoir is not just the personal honesty or the clarity of her writing, but the surprises she, the student, and he, the teacher, discover as they garden together. But what surprised me most was that I found the book to be a balm, soothing during my own time of personal transition, uncertainty, and challenge. I suspect it will be so for all of its readers.