“In Portland,” they told us when we moved here, “you don’t garden. You beat things back with a stick.”
I have to say it’s true.
Year after year, we prune the lilacs. We trim the camellias, we cut back the roses. We wait, every spring, for the hyacinths to stop blooming so that we can mow them down with the calf-high grass. It’s a losing battle against the dandelions and clover, not to mention the morning glory and vinca.
Don’t get me wrong: I love the utter fecundity of spring here. But I’m not a gardener. I like being outdoors, but I hate dirt under my nails and in the creases of my palms and god forbid I come across a worm or a spider or a pillbug.
My mother was the gardener, with the kind of green thumb that could make irises grow in solid cement. She’s the one who planted our rosebushes, that first July after my son was born. She couldn’t stand it, the way we wasted the spring rains and long summers and our good soil, and yet she refused to leave the dusty Nevada town she’d settled into. She rooted deep, like a dandelion, into the cracks between her discarded ambitions and her loneliness. She kept a container garden on her back patio—nothing would grow in the actual dirt—where she coaxed tomatoes and cucumbers and zucchini and lettuce out of store-bought potting soil.
She helped me plant an herb garden, that same July, in a heavy red container that we keep near the back door. I can handle this, I thought. One little pot of greenery. I loved ducking outside to snip off a sprig of rosemary, a few leaves of sage. If I wasn’t exactly beating the plants back with a stick, still, I managed to keep them alive for a year or two before they withered and died. Even the rosemary gave up on me.
The roses, though, those are still here. Even if we neglect them until late in the season, even if we forget the aphid spray. Those roses bloom from March through November and sometimes even longer, and it has nothing to do with us. Maybe the roses, too, have set their roots deep; maybe they know a good thing when they find it.
Maybe it’s time to replant that rosemary.