Plants and flowers fascinate me; the shapes of the leaves and petals, the colors, the textures, the names, and the forms. Recently, when walking through the nursery at a chain home improvement store, I stopped like I’d discovered treasure. The store was carrying hellebores. They’re an uncommon find and I first noticed and liked hellebores because of a magazine article. A few days passed, and I bought one. I don’t always think very practically when a plant catches my eye in a special way. I feel like I have to have it. I want its beauty or uniqueness to come home with me so I can keep it as long as I can. When I read the marker or tag that comes with one, and find out whether it takes sun or shade and how big it can get, I think of everything it could be, how it will grow, bloom and develop or how it could transform a certain location. A plant is bought in hope of what it will become.
Growing up and into adulthood, my mom and I worked hard to transform the front and back yards of the family home which, as it turns out, is the same home my mom grew up in. My green thumbed grandma gardened years before on the same land as my mom and me. But while she had a green thumb, frankly, all too often we have felt the sting of failure. I remember the photinia we planted along the chain link fence in the back yard with a vision that it would create a large natural wall and visual barrier that world block our neighbors yard and shield ours. My mom and I would drive into town and see full grown photinia, over six feet tall, which is often used in the landscaping and stores in our area, and imagine how ours world eventually look. Despite my mom’s warnings, my dad accidentally mowed most of them over. The ones that survived dried out in the sun for lack of watering. I also remember when we planted ferns and spread bark in the shady side yard since ferns love shade. It seemed we had done everything right, and almost everything in our power to help the ferns do well there. At the beginning, they flourished. Inexplicably, they took a turn for the worse and most died. I knew our soil wasn’t the best, but it still didn’t make sense.
On one occasion, we decided do add a row of trellises for more privacy and plant bougainvilleas to grow on them. We envisioned how beautiful the bougainvilleas would look with their delicate white and green leaves once they had covered the wooden frames of the trellises and extended to the wire fence behind them. Seven trellises and seven bougainvilleas were purchased. I dug holes with much effort as the dirt in that area can hardly be called soil. It’s more like sticky globs. I struggled to get those trellises straight and even with one another. I remember not being entirely satisfied but once we added the bougainvillea and some solar lights, it looked pretty for a while. I remember seeing the line of solar lights glowing in the middle of a summer night and feeling proud. None of it lasted. Once winter came, the wind blew those trellises this way and that and eventually broke some of them. The bougainvillea died, and eventually the solar lights quit working and got lost.
Amongst our other failures, a bed of French lavender that froze to death which was planted to help cover the smell our neighbors chickens, two iceberg roses that were hard to care for with the water restrictions of the California drought in years past, and several dead hydrangeas. There were coral bells that met the same fate as the photinia, dahlia tubers that sprouted but never bloomed, and an Alice in Wonderland themed area complete with garden statues and tea cup shaped flower pots holding bleeding heats that eventually became an area for our cats to relieve themselves.
Whenever my mom and I bought plants and landscaping materials for a project, we went forward with hope and expectation. We had visions of what we wanted and what we were striving for. We tried to understand what went wrong before and make changes in watering, light, or soil that would give our plants a greater chance at life. A few successes kept us going, but it was hard to keep our heads up when our losses far outweighed them. Seeing all those little dreams for the front and back yards fail to succeed was disheartening. I still have a bit of hope. I’m going to put that hellebore in a pot and try to take care of it, if I remember to, if I have enough energy to. But occasionally when I try to exercise that hope, especially for larger projects, I feel defeated before I even begin. It’s buying plants but fearing that they’re just going to die. It’s feeling like my efforts count for nothing, no progress has been made, nothing lasts, and everything turns to crap. But I’m not really talking about plants anymore.
When I look at a plant I believed to be dead and discover new growth, it feels like a small miracle.