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The Ghost in the Garden

May 9, 2024

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By Kathy Legg

WEED? FLOWER? Pull it? Let it grow?  

I’ve no idea. 

Take a photo. Google it. Still don’t know.  

It resembles something Google says is nasty and highly invasive. It also looks a bit like a dainty larkspur. Dainty? Yes, keep it. Nasty? No. 

Not inclined to take chances, I rip it out of the ground. 

I never wanted this gardening assignment in the first place. It was not my idea. This is my mother’s garden and I am, reluctantly, now its keeper.  

I inherited many of my mother’s traits. Alas, her passion for gardening is not among them. Nor is her talent for growing anything that has roots. Or her knowledge of what is desirable and what is not. When she died, my thought was to let nature take its course and reclaim the garden as it saw fit. Nature laughed. So did my mother from whatever heavenly realm she had come to occupy. 

No surprise. The woman always was right, and she always got her way. 

So here I am destroying my fingernails and back while bending and pulling and second-guessing myself each time I tear something from the ground.  

Among the traits I do share with my mother is an obsessive desire for order. Like her, I prefer to see things in their place. While she took no prisoners I, on the other hand, will allow a bit of leeway when a plant decides it wants to spread a bit here or there. I never have been as determined as she to bend things to my will. My life has room for shades of pink. Just as long as it’s neat. Or, at least, neat-ish. When it became physically impossible for Mom to tend her garden as she would have liked, she handed it off to me with every expectation her obsession would become mine. 

In my mother’s garden every leaf and blossom stood out. They had to. She willed it. Weeds shriveled in her wake. It was a beautiful sight to behold. She divided. Replanted. Repositioned. Because no tuber or bulb or slip ever was discarded, her garden constantly expanding. Too much, I thought. Too obsessive. Now that I was in charge, the garden itself was going to  have a say in the growing process. I envisioned those messy-looking English gardens where everything seems to grow into everything else. Where there’s no line of demarcation between the irises and the daisies. Where it all blends into a colorful, fragrant hodgepodge. 

This was going to mean my freedom from daily weeding. I wouldn’t be neglectful, but I also would not be a slave devoting hours upon hours (as my mother did) to cultivating each and every plant. Let them spread where they may and see what happens.

And spread they did. 

The first summer of my mother’s absence saw her garden stretch its stems, seemingly to see how much it could get away with. I rather liked it. It looked more relaxed. Less formal. “See, Mom?” I wanted to say. Black-eyed Susans were in abundance. More than I ever had seen there before in amongst the irises. So too was an unfamiliar plant whose name I do not know that bore clever red blooms resembling Japanese lanterns. Neat! The peonies seemed happy.  The roses not so much. But then, I never did think the roses had the proper soil roses seem to need. All in all, I deemed my less-is-more approach a success.

The following summer was much the same but more so. A merging, flowery mess. However, I began to  notice some things weren’t flowering as much as they used to. Some things seemed to be disappearing, overtaken by something else. Maybe now there were a tad too many Black-eyed Susans. Okay, Mom. I get it. Now she was the one saying, “See?” I realized she knew what she was talking about. There needed to be limits. Even at the cost of my fingernails. 

So I now tend my mother’s garden much as she would have wanted. Still not as obsessively as she, but enough to keep her spirit quiet. Her spirit abides in the garden and keeps me company as I go about dividing and thinning. I have to admit she was right, for the garden again looks glorious. Not quite so straitlaced as she might like, but close to it.

I just wish her spirit would take a more active role in identifying the weeds.



 



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