How the wild things grow
The first plant I remember loving was a 2-foot-tall fir my mother bought for me on my 10th birthday. She owned a preschool at the time, and we planted it together in the front yard, along a path that sloped toward a small playground. I watched it grow over the years, as I grew in turn, until it towered over me, a stalwart reminder of age and time and the joy that can come from encouraging life.
My mother loved planting and tending things—marigolds and violets, strawberries and tomatoes, long rows of green onions and cilantro, the plum tree that bloomed and fruited in our backyard. She taught me to love the smell of earth and dank mulch, to celebrate the discovery of wriggling earthworms, to delight in digging holes in the dirt and filling them with a gentle life that would one day turn strong. She would take me with her to the local garden center, where I marveled at all of the shapes and smells such life could take. She would let me pick some of the day’s spoils, showing me how to recognize the bright, tender shoots of new growth that signal a readiness to flourish.
The landscape was different in Boulder than it is in Brooklyn, but there are still ways of bringing the outdoors in.
In my Greenpoint apartment, wherever there is a bright pocket of sun, plants have dominion—resilient pothos and sansevieria; kaleidoscopes of peperomias; haworthia and echeveria and crassula, which after years of struggling with succulents I finally figured out how to grow and which also imparted the wisdom of patience; bromeliads and ferns and mosses, and mosses that pretend to be ferns and ferns that act like mosses. I built a trellis out of copper wire behind my bed that supports an ever-stretching stephanotis.
The orchids are some of my favorite, not for their blooms although they are pretty, but their thick, wandering roots that are meant for watching. Orchids have taught me, in fact, to take more pride in what roots than what flowers.
My true favorite is probably a geranium I’ve grown in one south-facing window for the past six years, a flower that always reminds me of my mother because it was one of her favorites, too, and is similarly prolific. Most geranium flowers don’t have much of a scent, but their leaves smell of soil and spice.
My inclination here is to write something about how strange it is, the comfort we can take in coaxing bits of flora to sprawl up and out, but it isn’t really strange at all. It makes perfect sense to want to perpetuate life in whatever way we can—whether for practicality or pleasure, sustenance or medicine or oxygen or enjoyment or the lovely little desire to give something else a home.
It is a different kind of motherhood to tend a garden, one that is probably more about nurturing yourself than a tiny creature. But as we each stretch further from our childhoods, grow like saplings toward the sun, so it becomes more important, and often more necessary, that we learn to provide ourselves with some parenthood as well.
You tend a garden to tend yourself, not to tame but to root ever deeper, expand ever more wildly, multiply and unfurl and bloom.