Already I have stopped by a couple of nurseries and picked up some babies, herbs mostly, but a Shasta daisy or two, hibiscus, a geranium, old-fashioned perennials I’m not too sure about. But then, how can we ever know, I mean really, what the little ones will grow into?Will they take to the ways in which we have trained them, nurtured them? Or will they go their own way, headstrong and difficult, exasperating us, bullying their more delicate siblings, hogging all the light?
My happiest time in spring is seeing all my young plants, flowers and herbs together, bunched up on the porch in a puppy pile of color and texture. They sit in the shallow cardboard boxes I bring them home in, and I thrill at the riotous abundance of it.
The day will come when I separate them, take them out of the playpen and put them in their own beds, and it will be sad for all of us. They will thrive, eventually, more than they ever could on the porch, crowded and craning their slender necks so they might face the sun. But for the first few nights they will look small and a bit lost in all that space I’ve given them to grow.
Soon they will settle in, they will nestle sweetly under a brown blanket of new soil and mulch, but there will be a difficult night or two. They may get cold and need extra cover, and I will oblige, placing tea towels and pillowcases just so. Some nights they are thirsty. Other nights will arrive with too much wind, until the time they come to rely on it, the sound of it drifting them off to sleep, their roots growing sturdier with each gust and whisper.
I have taken to calling them girls. I greet them in the morning, compliment them, even when they don’t deserve it, just to encourage them along. But sometimes the compliments are genuine, heartfelt, especially in the early days and all that color and green and hopefulness take me by surprise when I open the door in the morning or return from an errand and see their happy brilliance as I pull into the drive.
But I am a casual parent, too. By summer’s end they will have had it, will have grown old and tired, or turned their faces to the wall, fading as slowly as their blooms. I give them what they need, food and drink, and I help them tidy up their rooms on occasion. Sometimes a little treat to refresh their blossoms, or support for their giant and heavy heads. But I let them be themselves. It is the only way. For I know, I always know, these girls will leave me.
A couple of grandpas and grandmas live around my house. I am not quite so casual with them. I scratch on their branches, looking for that bit of green that says they have survived one more winter. I watch for signs of new leaf or budding with a mixture of dread and hope and anticipatory grief.
I talk to them, too, but in a different timbre, and we commiserate where as the young flowers and I dream. There isn’t much to do for them, really, but sit with them in the sun, enjoy the deepening shadows as they play across their faces. There are no heroic measures to be taken in my yard. I tried that once, long ago, and hastened the death of a perfectly good, but aged shrub. One that had a bit more to teach me. A bit more to give. I thought I knew more than I did, and overdid the cure, a cure for which there was no disease but simple, noble old age.
My little family will grow over the next few weeks, more plants carried home in boxes and containers and little paper packets to be opened and emptied upon prepared patches of ground. I learn each season which plants are apt to be happiest here, which ones will need more light than I can provide. I will stock the shelves with nourishing food and special treats, but not too many. Maybe a little something to brighten their blooms like party dresses. Maybe something to keep the bugs off. After that, they, like all of us, are on their own.