The True Measure of a Gardener

My paternal grandmother Hermione loved her garden. One of my deepest regrets is the lost opportunity to garden by her side. In those last years, most visits found her sitting on the olive-green brocade sofa in her living room gazing wistfully out the window at her camellias and rhododendrons.

“Oh, how I loved to garden,” she’d sigh.

After her stroke, she had a habit of rubbing her left arm repetitively. It may have been to assuage residual pain and weakness, but in hindsight I have come to believe it was also a physical prayer for healing. She had hired a gardener to manage the proverbial weekly manicuring of the lawns and flower beds. But what I didn’t know then, is that for her, the loss of gardening was a loss equal to, if not greater than, the physical limitations of the stroke itself.

At the time, I was focused on raising a family of my own and our time together tended to revolve around her great-grandchildren. I hadn’t the energy to more than maintenance garden myself and hadn’t the context to appreciate the depth of her grief.

I’d like her to know. I do now.

Some of my fondest memories as a child were the hours we spent in her vegetable garden. If gardening is a form of prayer, her prayers were answered with exuberant, almost comical, abundance. Tomatoes, zucchini, Swiss chard, beets. She was generous with the bounty. And this ability to give sustenance from her garden gave her a measure of quiet pride and satisfaction.

When it came to her orchids, however, the woman I called Grandma had absolutely no shame.

A number of years before she died, she divided several of her prized cymbidiums and gave me some of the divisions to take home. She told me how to pot them. I followed her instructions to the letter.

It pleased her no end that they never bloomed for me. Not once. She would ask after them at every visit as though they were her children.

“Any blooms?,” she’d ask.

“No, Grandma, not yet.”

This always made her laugh, and she’d point to the row of bloomers on her front porch as evidence that my gardening skills still didn’t measure up. She was right. They didn’t.

But I knew there was hope for me that first February after she died.

Her orchids.

The ones she’d divided for me.

They bloomed.





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