Morning in the Garden

When I’m in Boston, the first thing I do every morning is go out into the garden. Well, almost every morning — unless it’s raining the way it does it Boston, in sheets of water coming down from the sky, or the garden is deep in snow.

This morning it was not yet raining, although the forecast says rain today and tomorrow, all day, 100%. That’s good — my garden needs it, although I’ve been watering it since I got back from Budapest last week. I was gone for most of the summer, first in Budapest, then teaching in London, and then in Budapest again, so the garden had to fend for itself. It mostly did — I’ve gotten smarter about what I plant, and the hostas and heucheras are doing fine. The azaleas survived, as did most of the rhododendrons, except one in a dark, rather dry part of the garden. I’ve dug it up and I’m going to see if there’s any way of saving it, any life left in it. Because you never know. One of the roses survived, one didn’t. Everything was fine until the heatwave — that was what did it for some of the plants. The heat was too much for them.

I remember wilting myself, during the heat wave in London. Those hot, humid days traveling around the city, trying to get to the classes I was teaching in Kensington on the tube, while London broke down around me. Tube lines closing down, roads melting in the heat. At the time, I was living in a first floor apartment, an AirBnb rental not much different from my apartment here in Boston. It had a beautiful garden maintained by the upstairs neighbor — the sort of small garden you find around London row houses, really a narrow strip of soil around the front and back. A good gardener can create magic in that narrow strip, and my upstairs neighbor was a very good gardener. At the back of the apartment was a patio surrounded by that garden. I did not spend much time there, because I had so much work to do — I was teaching a full semester, twelve weeks of material in six weeks, so I was always either planning or grading. But I liked having the garden there. In the morning, I could look out the glass door at the end of the kitchen and see trees, flowers. It made the whole day better. It gave me a sense that the entire world did not exist on a computer screen or in a classroom — or on the tube, or even in one of the public parks, which are so manicured in London, and so filled with people. It gave me a small sense of wildness.

When I am here in Boston, with my own little garden, a narrow strip by the side of my apartment house (once a house, now divided into three flats) that widens a bit in back, next to the back porch, I go out every morning and breathe. I am surrounded by tall trees, mostly linden but also oak and maple. Then I go through the garden, bit by bit. It’s divided into three parts. The first part is a strip of woodland garden by the asphalt path at the side of the house. There I planted hostas and heucheras, azaleas and astilbe. That part of the garden is doing well. The heart-shaped leaves of the violets sway, a foot tall. I brush the leaves with my hand and look underneath. Today I plucked out three oak seedlings — the oaks feel that the garden is in their territory, and want to take it back. They like the moist, woody soil. The second part of the garden is a very narrow strip by a second path, a continuation of the asphalt path, but this time concrete stepping stones with grass growing between them. This path goes around the basement bulkhead. Here there are also some hostas, but mostly wild plants like helleborine. At first I tried to take the helleborine out, because I read that it was a weed, but then I decided that I liked its strange green and maroon flowers. It’s actually an orchid, and would be more valued were it not considered invasive. In my garden, I let it invade — at least it survives the poor soil and uncertain weather! This part of the garden is always fine — it looks wild, it is wild, but it’s attractive. And then there is the back, where I have my raised boxes. This is the difficult part of the garden because both sunlight and moisture vary wildly between the two halves of it, although it must be no more than ten feet across. Let’s just say that this part is a work in progress. Some things are thriving (a rhododendron, a hydrangea), some things are not doing so well. And it’s harder now, when I’m away so much — the garden must more or less fend for itself.

I go out into the garden every morning because it makes me feel grounded, in both a literal and metaphorical sense. It makes me feel as though I have a connection to the earth itself, as though I am not floating up in the air somewhere. As though I will not float away. This is particularly important now, because over this summer I have in fact been floating quite a lot. I’ve been in a lot of airplanes, been to a lot of places where I was not connected — stayed in homes that are not mine, countries where I do not live. In Budapest I feel connected in another way — to my family, my history. But there my apartment is on the European second floor, meaning two flights up from the ground. There, I feel as though I’m living in a nest in one of the trees that surround the Nemzeti Múzeum. I love it — it is the apartment I would live in if I could — but I don’t feel grounded.

I think we need to maintain a connection with the ground. When we came down from the trees, in some evolutionary past, we created a relationship with the ground — we walk on it, gather our food from it. It is our nurturing mother. When we lose that relationship, I propose, we lose some part of ourselves. We do that by living too far from it (up in the air, in skyscrapers), by covering too much of it (with roads, sidewalks). If we live far away from it, we need at least to get back to it sometimes — we need parks, places where plants can grow. We need a connection to soil.

My dream, and I’m sure I’ve written this before, is to have a house with a large garden. How I will afford that — well, I don’t know yet. I certainly won’t be able to do it on a teacher’s salary. Maybe if I write books and people buy them . . . maybe then.

(The image is My Garden (The Bench) by Édouard Manet.)

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2 Responses to Morning in the Garden

  1. Nancy says:

    A wonderful dream, to have a house and a large garden. That dream became a reality for me over time and, although my house is small, it sits next to a patch of woods, and I have quite a large Garden, which is my joy and grounding space. Your preparing for your future dream garden is happening right now, from what you write here. It’s a very organic process!

  2. James says:

    with Autumn at the gate, Summer will soon leap the wall and run off.
    have enjoyed your short stories in the ‘Forest of Forgetting’

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