By: Anne Maxwell
Author of: Grace in Ordinary Times
My flower beds and patio planters look fabulous in May.
Throughout June, they’re hanging tough.
But by the time the hazy afternoons of July pass and the dog days of summer of August settle in, their appearance reflects that of the age of the summer season.
Tired. Faded. Gasping for air.
I’m not blaming nature. It’s nurture that’s the problem. And, despite repeating yet again what an unusual year 2020 is, well, this year is different. On a recent family virtual tour of yards and gardens, my Mom even had to comment, Wow, your flowers still look good.
And, they do. But I can’t accept any credit. It’s all due to my second daughter Zoe.
Zoe returned from college in March amid the COVID shutdown to take all her classes online and landed a job at a local garden center. As an agricultural-based business deemed essential, she was working from the early days of spring into the heat of summer caring for everything from hibiscus and hostas to purslane and petunias.
When she first came home and told us about her new gig, I was happy she’d found something to keep busy and earn a paycheck. But I was a little bit uncertain about her choice of employment. Out of my four kids, I have two who get outside every chance they get, and two who enjoy the creature comforts of home. Zoe is decidedly on the “indoor” team. As a little girl, Zoe hated to get dirty and cried if she got mud on her clothes when we visited my parents’ farm. The thought of her being rooted in a soil-based business was somewhat baffling.
However, as a parent of a college-aged student who is well aware of the cost of tuition, I know the correct response to: Mom, I’ve got a job! is: GREAT!
Thus, I couched my skepticism and remained grateful for the opportunity for her to be employed while back home. As it turned out, Zoe didn’t just earn a paycheck this spring and summer. She discovered a passion.
Day after day she would come home to say things I thought would never come out of the mouth of someone who prefers the shades drawn and SPF 100.
You wouldn’t believe how beautiful the mandevilla is!
The citrus mix of lantana would look great in your planter with those red geraniums.
She’d call me in the middle of the day with, Mom … we just got some Black Dahlias in … you have to have one!
Then there was the day she arrived home with three new house plants, a succulent and a cactus, already named.
This all leads me back to my flower beds. Again, the credit does not lie with nature. I can only chalk it up to nurture.
After a long day of watering and pruning countless blossoms at work in 100-degree-plus conditions, she’d shrug off the invite to join us in the A/C, instead preferring to head out to our yard. With her headband tethering her hair back and a hose in her hand, a smile of satisfaction crossed her face as she spread a bit of care and refreshment to the tender blossoms under the eaves of our patio.
When grasshoppers descended upon my sweet potato ivy in the front planters on our driveway, she readily came to the rescue - even if our exchange about the preferred treatment was a bit comical.
Just pick me up some Sevin, I told her, referring to the pesticide I was always told by my master gardening mother to use to get rid of pesky bugs.
You mean Eight, Zoe replied.
No … Sevin, I retorted.
I’m pretty sure it’s Eight, Mom. It kills eight kinds of bugs, she countered.
This went on for a few rounds until we finally figured out the conflict. She was right, and no matter the number or the name, the hoppers were soon gone with Zoe at the helm.
Her summer and her temporary job came to an end a couple of weeks ago as she headed back to campus. She led me on one last yard tour the night before she left, ticking off the list of “do’s” and “don’ts”. It was a bit like having a parent give the rundown to a teenage babysitter.
She likes extra water and trim her back a bit.
Don’t overwater him and keep him out of the midday sun.
She punctuated all these with, “Mom,” only because she is all-too familiar with my lackadaisical approach to late summer gardening.
I swore to water, feed, and deadhead as directed as she prepared to pass the torch - or the hose - to me. I told her how proud I was of her for earning extra money for college, and how happy I was that she had happened upon a hobby to enjoy the rest of her life.
She smiled, and continued with her final tending, and pointed to the Black Dahlia.
Turns out, even her green thumb had aimed a little high with that beautiful plant. The heat and wind had battered it a bit and we hadn’t enjoyed its vibrant, intricate blossoms since June. But on that early August evening, we were both drawn to the quiet beauty of its dark foliage and one bright bloom. In a season where it would have been incredibly easy to fade and stall, she thrived. She bloomed.
Wow … I’m so surprised she blossomed again, Zoe said.
I’m not … she’s amazing, I told Zoe.
I hope my daughter realizes I was referring to the young woman who found new growth during a difficult season, and not the delicate Dahlia in her hand.
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