As I sit down to write today, my fingers and hands look like they’ve seen a war. Small festering prickles are embedded here and there, my nails are blackened and broken, and I have defensive wounds on my forearms. My beautiful thorny rosebush attacked me last night and while I did manage to cut it back, so that I can paint my house, it made some slices of its own. I was wearing heavy-duty work gloves and its spiny thorns still got through.
When I told my son to be careful around the rosebush because “it’s very mean,” he shook his head. “It’s not mean, Mom. It’s just misunderstood.” Cheeky kid. At least I know he listens to me sometimes. A little while later though, after a too self-assured brush against the plant, he decided I was right.
The rosebush made me realize something about the famous fairy tale, Sleeping Beauty. It had to be written by a gardener, one familiar with fighting mighty rosebushes, because only one so blessed (cursed?!) could understand just how adequately a rosebush left to its own devices could protect a tower and persuade any would-be heroes to seek easier rescues.
Other stories inspired by humans’ passion for (or struggle with!) growing things came to me.
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Aside from the pure magic of discovering a hidden garden to play in, the children who seek refuge there find healing and rejuvenation. So much so that it almost escapes the reader’s attention: that place of new growth and life was also the starting place of all young Colin’s woes, the place that killed his mother and brought death, pain and estrangement into the family.
Beatrix Potter’s hilarious tales of bratty Peter Rabbit, his kin, and neighbouring animal folk. I can’t help but wonder if she had to protect her cabbages from some bunny—too cute to resist being charmed by, too annoying to quite quell the desire to stick him in a pie via Mr. McGregor.
Ideas for my columns (nature-based or not) often sprout while I’m working outside, and last spring, after cleaning out a flowerbed, I penned (okay, I typed, but honestly, doesn’t penned sound more romantic?) my own tale inspired by digging in the dirt, “Wishful,” in which a woman is enjoying a lovely day and wishes things would never change. I guess I wanted to explore the truth in the adage, “Be careful what you wish for.” In any event, I won’t ever look at the little faces in pansies quite the same way ever again.
Noelle, the main character in my novel SPOONS, shares my passion for dirt and flowers, and it’s laboring in a garden that gives her a renewed knowledge of herself and her strengths, plus the hope and vigor she needs to work on her marriage.
I don’t know what it is about yard work that cultivates ideas, but that kind of labour definitely fertilizes the mind—and not just the writer’s muse either.
Toiling in my yard, contemplating the growth and flowers (or lack thereof) of various plants, I make plans for summer, go over things I need to accomplish in the week, and ponder my relationships with my kids, husband, family, and friends.
Some of my best brainstorming sessions—for work, for writing, for house and home projects—occur with clippers or a rake, not a pen, in my hand. Problems too, imagined or not, get worked out alongside my muscles
Stress, angst, worry . . . all those negative energy zappers disappear as I help my plants move out of their winter garb, shed spring excitement that’s burst forth in go-no-where energy stealers—the plants’ own suckers and shoots—and get ready for summer growth and maturity.
I know that comparing garden growth to personal growth is an oft-used metaphor, but as with many things that get overused, it’s used a lot because people feel its truth. Seeing how things change season through season, watching how the tiniest seed grows into the most profuse plant, marvelling at how the “deadest” branch comes to life when the time and conditions are right is inspiring.
I was the one being cheeky earlier when I said my rosebush was mean—I was feeling guilty for pruning the beautiful thing back so vehemently. I deserve my scars. Really, I’m in awe of its warrior-self that in a few more weeks will be topped with the showiest, soft-as-velvet blooms you can imagine, and I’m already anticipating its heavy, delicious scent carrying in the warm evening air. My mind finds peace and inspiration in the same slivers and blisters that make my fingers and hands seem like they’ve done battle.
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This column is another blast from the past. Written with my wounded hands in May 2009, I reread it recently and wanted to reshare because rose bushes are heavy on my mind again for several reasons, some being: It’s finally warm enough to be out in the garden again, and I have three new bushes I want to plant reserved for me at The Spotted Horse. I lost a beloved bush in our brutal winter this year. I have no idea where my good gloves are and I need them. . . .