Plants Die

Warning: This is a little depressing. I was going to add a grim reaper to the title but couldn’t figure out how so these words have become your warning. 🙂

Larkspur. There’s a town in Colorado called Larkspur and over by the railroad tracks there was actually larkspur growing wild. Even though the Colorado sun is hot and dry, these little flowers found their way. I thought that the sunny area in my gardens would also grow larkspur well so I bought some and welcomed them home. Cue angels singing, bees buzzing, and the glorious blue flowers waving softly in the breeze.

Larkspur, Garden Plant, Garden, Blue, Nature, Plant
My Dream Larkspur

It did not go well. Not well at all. These plants sat in the soil looking like the dog who thought he was going to the park but ended up at the vet. “What! Just! Happened!?!” They were shocked and never recovered. Was the soil too dry? Too wet? Wrong pH? *Sigh* I don’t know what happened. They looked healthy one day and the next on their way out. Failure.

I don’t care how long you’ve been gardening, the death of a plant is hard to accept. I’ve been gardening for over 30 years but here I am going on about the larkspur. Gardeners don’t get a plant thinking, “Oh! This one will never make it.” We get a plant and have a dream for it, or about it.

Growing a garden takes a good imagination, I think. I see a little plant, look at it’s size expectations, the color, the condition expectations, etc., and imagine where it would belong in my garden. In my mind the plant is healthy, in full bloom, happily thriving in its space and so I dive dive in. I buy that dream. So when that dream dies… ugh. My heart.

The new garden where the larkspur were supposed to be happy

My heart wants to realize its dreams and not just in the garden. Recently, a dream of mine died. Promise not to laugh. I wanted to be teacher-of-the-year. Truly. No teacher will tell you this because a good, humble teacher teaches because they love kids so the rewards, pay, etc. don’t matter. B.S. Humans need validation. (Another rant for another day) What I didn’t know when I birthed that dream was how my every waking hour would be consumed by my career in order to reach that goal, as well as all the other dreams I would have to set aside to have it. No more gardening. No more family time.

– I’m going to switch gears here, but just for a minute. Hang in there. –

The phrase, “Bloom Where You’re Planted” is crap. It doesn’t make good gardening sense. If my larkspur lived by that, they would be happy wherever I put them. Flowers bloom where they belong. If I plant a rhododendron in alkaline soil, it’s certainly not going to feel like blooming. We bloom where we belong. It may not sound as holy or whatever. But it’s better. It’s true.

The death of a dream is the slow process of finding where we belong. Thankfully we are more resilient than flowers and don’t just die when we’re not in the right place, or not with the right person, or not in the right job. The knowledge of that doesn’t help our hearts but it does help guide us to the right place.

An easier thing is to trade dreams. Let the old one go in place of a new one. Like, I’ll trade my dream of owning a Camaro Z28 for one of owning a car that doesn’t break down. But that’s not the same.

Sometimes a dream simply dies. And we grieve over it. It’s hard. These dreams are deeper. They are part of who we see ourselves. I saw myself as a teacher who loved children and families and could break through impediments and help kids learn. And then to do it so well that I could show others how to do it and we could finally actually teach. And learn. In love. In joy. In fun. It wasn’t just the teacher-of-the-year award, it was classroom-of-the-year, school-of-the-year. I wanted to remake the whole thing – Ken Robinson the whole thing. (My dreams are not small and attainable – ha!)

Maybe someday I’ll try larkspur again. Or perhaps it’s ok to move on and plant delphinium instead. Gardening I can manage. As far as teaching goes, I’m still trying to find my way.

Moss vs. Holly

I’ve started a moss garden. Not really sure if that’s a thing out there in the world but it’s a thing now in my garden. Grands 1 and 3 decided we should move the broken-necked statue to the moss garden so now Elizabeth resides there with her puppies. Elizabeth didn’t know she was moving from bright sunshine surrounded by daffodils to the shade of a holly surrounded by mounds of moss. If only she would pick up the holly leaves every day instead of leaving them for me.

Girl and puppies statue surrounded by moss
Elizabeth and her puppies in the moss garden

The moss garden was supposed to be a clever idea. First, it’s located beneath an ancient holly. I have many reasons to hate Holly (and Henrick), though I’m learning to love them now (watch for a Holly and Henrick entry dedicated to them – spoiled). If you have a holly bush, or even just use real holly at Christmas, you know why it is difficult … it HURTS to be near it. So picking up Holly’s leaves off the soft moss is a daily job that requires gloves. In my cleverness (!) I thought, “What a great juxtaposition in gardening! Barefoot soft moss under one of the most painful trees.” *eyeroll* Honestly, I still love the idea and so far I put in the work. 

Painful work. As I was clearing the ground, even with gloves, there were constant pricks of pain. Not bee sting pain but a reminder of what I was dealing with. So I thought about what I’ve been dealing with in my life that is constantly painful. I had been trying to teach in a school where I loved the students but found it impossible to work with the administrator. It was at a school in Camden, a tough place to teach but a tougher place to grow up. The kids often live in very difficult situations so I knew they would come to class with deep needs. I was prepared. I knew it would be a challenge. What I didn’t expect and what became daily pain was the pressures of administration. Within the first quarter I was given a reprimand and told I could be fired at a moment’s notice because I didn’t teach exactly as prescribed. My style of teaching and philosophy didn’t fit. After that, my administrator seemed to find something wrong constantly and I became an anxiety filled mess every time I saw her. These pains filled my world every single day. I was most certainly looking for some moss.

In my moss garden process, I had to clear the ground before I could lay down any moss. I had to pick up the holly leaves that had built up in the stones and in the grass, pull out the rogue grass, and prepare the soil. Only then could the moss lay down and take root. The change in the area from one of sharpness and avoidance to joy and rest happened as soon as I put down the moss and watered it over. I am not sure where the moss is yet in my life. Perhaps it’s the garden itself, the joy of being in the soil and caring for things around me. It is a luxury many of my students never see in their gardenless worlds. May we all find our heart and mind moss gardens.

The Essential Question

Me wearing boots

In education, teachers present students with the essential question, the question they should be able to answer after the lesson is over. We all have an essential question. The one we seek the answer for all our lives so that, hopefully, when the lesson is over, we know the answer. As is true for most people, that question for me is “Why am I here?”

If I understand this whole thing correctly, your first blog post is supposed to answer that question in a more literal sense. But I’ve been struggling with this question existentially lately and have come to some realizations about myself. First, I missed my heart’s calling to horticulture. Darn it! I’ve loved gardening since I was a child and have gardened everywhere I’ve ever lived but am astonished to look back and realize I never moved that direction in education or livelihood. Go figure. Next, I’m in between jobs and feel lost (like you do when you’re out of a job). My paid job most recently has been as a teacher but after a long, complicated year, I’m feeling like I don’t quite fit there.

So we return to the “Why am I here?” question. What I would like to share with you is neither a how-to on gardening nor an instructional site for children. Rather, it’s my inner world as a gardener. You see, as I garden, I process. Sometimes knowingly, sometimes on autopilot, but I know I feel better when I’m finished working the soil. Through this blog, I will try to explain how I make sense of the world through my garden.

Psychologically, gardening is known to be a great therapy. It’s a place to find peace, even if you are not working in the soil. It seems like so many turned to it during the COVID crisis, not just as a cure to boredom, but to reconnect with the earth. Gardening grounds us when things seem out of control. At least that’s what it does for me and I hope for you too.

Since we’ll be dragging, hauling, digging, or walking through my mind processes in gardening, I want to encourage you to plant something for yourself and see what happens in your mind. Try it for your own good. If the plant dies, it’s ok. Bury it. It’s good for the soil. Learn a little more. Try again. I kill many things as I garden. I try to figure out what happened and then move on. Maybe I replant, maybe not. The process gives me hope and purpose. Every time a flower blooms or a vegetable ripens, it is as if the gardens says, “Good work. Keep going.” So I do.