Some writers talk about how soothing washing dishes can be, or how creative ideas emerge when they are ironing a shirt. For me, it’s weeding, or gardening of any sort. The images of tilling soil, preparing a bed, and watering a plant make my inner Thoreau come on out. Perhaps it was inspired first by Teeny, my best friend’s mom. She always clipped her own roses and brought them inside. Gardenias grew wild with a gazillion white blooms. Their waxy leaves never held bug bites; she knew every secret to maintaining a magnificent garden. Aphids didn’t stay long. You could smell those gardenias, windows shut, as you drove up the slender driveway.
I live in the city now. In Japan. I am far from Teeny’s Coral Springs garden with her fledgling pines that have since grown up. She tends a wild South Florida forest, a rose-studded Buddhist garden with earthen statues, tangles of jade, all her secrets and tips climbing high on a trellis.
I move, missing her and that garden. I can not take her birthday or graduation gift to me, a round basket garden. I cannot bring the lucky bamboo we hand out at our wedding–3 ” bamboo tucked in glass vials, basket smocked in green toile. I take whatever will and eye for beauty I have– in invisible seeds. You cannot bring live plants, produce, or meat into Japan.
Here we urban people practice potted gardening. I’d love to make a forever garden, just tending the little things I’ve somehow got growing is enough. Just hearing my three year old say, “succulents” will do. For now. Someday, I will grown gleaming Meyer lemons and will be a bulb-expert.
My mom is the real gardener. Maybe it chose her when on a kibbutz in Israel, picking almonds, handkerchief tied over her long light brown hair. She has planted and gleamed apricots, eaten pounds of gourmet salad from her own plots, shovelled ox manure and has raised giant beets. Even now, she is making ready her gigantic plastic worm condo for many a-guest. They will tend and eat and poop out nutrients to feed her neighborhood garden plot. She will bring in, hoist up great feasts of cabbage, heirloom tomatoes, sweet honeysuckle, arugula, and beans. And I will tease her mercilessly about those wriggling, hermaphrodite worms. They make more and more babies because they always are and have the right partner. They are the bees’ knees and she is a fearless farmer and squishy worm keeper. It’s all quite gross and quite charming (from a squeamish distance).
I won’t be shovelling cow poop or dangling too many worms in the near future, but I sure do admire all her high-yielding garden produces. At my ranch/narrow 3-story in Tokyo, we’re working on unearthing the surface soil, clearing out packed-in, crumpled leaves that have stood their ground since fall, since it was too cold for me to cup my hands to the earth and dig or weed. Actually, I did plant flowers and the quintessential Japanese plants for the new year, little ornamental cabbages that resemble white, green, and purple roses. But that’s it. The space is shabby, worn by winter and thirsty for sun.
Today, though, it is different. It is sixty degrees. We smile. My nursing boy is barefoot and the coats hang on their hooks. Today I venture outside, barely off our front stoop, baby boy on hip, watering can held by both our hands. We feel dirt, smell sunlight perch on trees. I am not able to get all the grit from my nails. I’ll have to scrub and scrub again and then spread on salve. I don’t have much of a garden, but man, I sure do have gardeners’ hands.
Today Jude picks up pebbles, places them on his lip, daring them to fit inside his little mouth. (I sweep my finger through his mouth, afraid. I hang him upside down by his feet). He earns the short-lived taste of dried cherry leaves. My eleven month old scuffs his brown moccasins as I scold myself–they should be sneakers. But anyway, he feels breeze; he watches me fill a bag with sediment, sees me clear what has been sitting too long. It is happy nesting. We await a new season. A season not stifled, cakes of dirt no longer cracked. We breathe through open windows and charts of peak cherry blossoms. We breathe in faith coming a l i v e. Today I plan a garden.
We will learn to garden and pluck weeds, flinging the old over our shoulders, away. We will thank winter for all the nasty cold, for showing us change, for showing us G-d. We will plant broccoli, radishes, maybe kale. In my head, ladybugs will all plot how to best get to us. Butterflies will twirl and skip right over. Our garden will boast the fruit and seeds of change that is love. And if my grandiose Little House thoughts are too big, at least we can keep up with the pulling of weeds. But o, to make my unfortunate gardenia bush bud. O, to harvest our own cucumber! We shall see what lives.