I have been fortunate enough to live in the same house for over 21 years; enabling me to completely transform our suburban yard into a haven for my family.
I turn 50 this year and have started to think about a two-pronged reality. One, even if I am lucky enough to live the classic four-score and ten, there are some plants that I will never see fully mature. Admittedly at my age, those are mostly trees, but still, the point stands. Two, if I ever have to move or when I die, I will leave my garden behind and the next people to live in our house might rip it all out and start over. Both prospects include melancholy (which my-dad-the-Buddhist would tell me is a sign of attachment and, likely, ego, so I probably should work on that). However part of the reason the idea of leaving my garden behind makes me sad is that it is not just a garden, it is memories of love made manifest.
Nothing in my garden beds or in the yard is planted just because I like it. Almost every plant has a second, emotion laden, meaning behind its place in the yard.
The roses come from my Dad’s attempt to keep roses alive in Wyoming winter after winter and from my husband’s grandmother, who gave me a cutting from a rose that had been planted by my husband’s, grandfather’s, grandmother after she bought it from a peddler.
The twenty-plus evergreen huckleberry bushes come from my husband’s side of the family. His grandfather would go huckleberry picking every fall and come home with gallons of berries to be made in to preserves for the coming winter. He had his own secret locations he would head off to each fall. Even when he needed two sticks to walk with he would climb into his truck and disappear for the day to fill his gallon buckets with berries.
The raspberries were planted after a trip to Norway with my mother where we met my grandfather’s cousin. He took us to his hytta (basically a cabin) and we picked raspberries from the long lines of bushes he planted and carefully tended. Both my mother and my grandfather’s cousin are dead now, but I still have the memory of that moment and it comes back to me every year when I eat raspberries from my own bushes.
The herbs in pots on the deck and nestled in some of the flower beds were planted when my daughter wanted to have an herb garden. I’ve continued to keep them both because they remind me of her and since I have started to do a lot more baking and it seems _right_ to have herbs to use.
There are many more, for as I say, all of the plants have a meaning beyond the fact that they are native, or good for bees and hummingbirds.
My plants allow me to commune with memories of my past, remind me of the contribution others have made (and continue to make) in my life, and ground me to the hear-and-now with the continued care that they require.
Working in my garden, reforges connections with people who are dear to me. Weeding is never just weeding. As a work around the plants I want to keep, I automatically think about why I planted them, what I love about them, and what love inspired me to plant them in the first place.
In some ways it is my own ‘Communion of Saints’; a place where I go to relive memories of past joys.
I hope, when it is time to put my trowel and garden knife down for good I will remember that, while I am leaving my physical garden behind, it is the memories and sense of connection to my family and friends that I have truly cultivated.*
*Though I do hope those who come after me keep the huckleberry bushes, because nothing else will grow very well under the big evergreen trees in our front yard and it takes 20 years to grow them from gallon- sized plants to three-foot tall bushes.
Kristin Fontaine is an itinerant Episcopalian, crafter, hobbyist, and unstoppable organizer of everything. Advent is her favorite season, but she thinks about the meaning of life and her relationship to God year-round. It all spills out in the essays she writes. She and her husband own Dailey Data Group, a statistical consulting company.