A few days before we left our Oregon homestead, my good friend and neighbor helped me pack my garden. Yes, I know it’s crazy, but it felt hugely important to bring to our Missouri home some small percentage of the hundreds of plants that I had come to know and love over years. So we spent several hours choosing, pruning, labeling, digging, and packing flowering perennials, herbs, bulbs, and fruit bushes into black garbage bags nestled inside of enormous cardboard boxes. Into the moving truck, and across the country my plants traveled, and when they arrived in Missouri, I hastily heeled them into a makeshift bed of topsoil, covered them with leaves, draped chicken wire over the entire thing, and hoped for the best.
In March I checked on the bed to see if there were any signs of life, and sure enough, the Columbines were putting out lush green growth. I felt an urgency to put the plants in the ground, to get them established before they put all their energy into upward growth. On a gusty day, Brian and I worked quickly to dig up sod, shake off the topsoil, loosen the hard clay below, and add horse manure. It was hard work, and thankfully our good friends who were visiting were willing to chip in and help. There were moments that I lifted out a “plant” and saw nothing more than a dead stick with a bright pink label. But I put it all in the ground, thinking that you never know when a plant will surprise you!
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been eagerly watching the bed for new signs of growth, and every time I see a tiny leaf push through the soil, it is a joyous gift. Yesterday, I was on my hands and knees, gasping with excitement over the fact that my favorite mint – which I dug up from the Echo Hollow creek-side, and interestingly, had been first planted by my Missouri neighbor Sarah – was indeed alive! It struck me that these plants are so important to me because they represent so much more than beauty and culinary delight; they are like a scrapbook of my past, holding the memories of important friendships, events, and places.
For instance, the four years that I worked at a wholesale plant nursery, way back in 2000-2004. So many discarded, overgrown plants came home with me those years. Into the garden they went, and as I added more and more plants to my stash, Brian obligingly dug and sculpted more garden space. Those were tumultuous years of our relationship, yet there was something about the garden work that we did together that assured us that, like the plants, we would grow together. Some of the plants from that nursery, a perennial primrose for instance, are still alive and now at home with me in Missouri.
Or flowers from the garden on the land that I was married. I worked in that garden for a summer, talking with my friend, the owner as we weeded together. I remember one day I was confiding with her about my relationship with Brian – I wasn’t quite sure where it was all going. She assured me that we were meant to be together, and when we were ready to be married, it would be on her land. Her Cut-Leaf Rudbeckia came home with me one day that summer, and is now growing more happily than I’ve ever seen it.
Or the way that my Oregon garden acted as a backdrop for our lives. We’d step out the door and check on new growth, or steep some sun tea, or warm ourselves, or play with goats in that garden. Some people have a stately tree under which they snap their family portraits; I had that garden.
Some of that warmth, that connection, those memories that I associate with plants and gardens is here with me, in our new home. And so my plants and I continue our journey together, sending down new roots, and experiencing new growth.