Reaping peace of mind

The Baltimore Sun

My husband says my garden looks like it belongs to a woman with a lot of time on her hands.

By that, I think he means that it looks neat and well-tended, which shows that the guy doesn't spend much time in gardens. But I will take the compliment.

To my eye, the garden doesn't look well-tended. It looks over-much, like a woman too well-turned-out for a simple occasion. It extends almost all the way around the picket fence that surrounds our corner lot, except for a couple of open spots left for the sake of visual diversity, and it is full of every bulb, bush and perennial that I have ever thought I would like.

I did not garden when the children were young. I just looked out the window longingly. I don't care what anybody says, you can't garden with toddlers. During those years, my Mother's Day present was always the same: six tomato plants and time to put them in the ground. By July, they were a jungled mess.

As my children became more independent, my gardening ambitions grew and so did my gardens. My husband, like so many men, loves his grass, and it has pained him to give so much of it over to me. He calls himself Neville Chamberlain.

The summer my son, Joe, left for the Naval Academy, I put in a shade garden that was probably 25 yards long and 6 feet deep. When he left for the Marines, I put in a sun garden on the other side of the house that was just about the same size. Joe is getting married next month. I may have to put in a roof garden.

My garden has been a place for me to plow back the energy my children no longer required, but it has always been more than that. It is the place where the phone does not ring and e-mail does not arrive. It is where I bury hurt and anger and frustration. It is where I burn up the dark energy that sometimes vibrates inside of me.

"Go out in the garden," my husband will say to me during these times. "I like to think of you there. It gives you peace. It gives me peace."

My garden is full of mistakes and bad ideas and ambitions I couldn't quite realize, and that's the best part about it. It is a constant work in progress. There is always another possibility. I am never discouraged, because there is always next year. I learn a lot while I am gardening, and patience might be at the top of the list of lessons. Optimism is another element in me that bubbles over into the garden.

My neighbor, Ruth, is outside with me in the spring, and we stop and chat between seasonal chores. By June, she is exasperated and wonders what it is that I am finding to do. But I always find something to change or fine-tune. I can't quite leave well enough alone.

Fall is coming now with its exhausting list of chores. But hard work is one of the best things about gardening. The chores wear you out. Gardeners always stay out too long and take on too much and push too hard, and by the end of a Saturday in the garden, there isn't much left of the gardener but the energy to lift a glass of wine.

But it is a good kind of tired. It is the muscle soreness that comes from honest work. And the sweat of a gardener has a vaguely muddy smell instead of the bitter, acrid smell of anxiety, of stress.

My husband says my garden looks like the garden of a woman with too much time on her hands.

But he knows, as I do, that it is the garden of a woman with a lot on her mind.

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What happens when you plant a tree to commemorate the birth of a child and that tree does not thrive and blossom as you hope, but dies or must be removed? That might be tougher to explain to a child than a previous marriage.

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