Bloom Where You Can

by Bella Rum

IMG_6650I don’t have many annuals or perennials anymore. I have a few irises, some lilies of the valley, and that’s about it unless you count the azaleas and lilacs. I don’t because they’re shrubs.

When we lived in Maryland, H cultivated a bed on the west side of our house for me. I’d never had a perennial bed before, and I threw myself into it.

Before we started a bonafide compost pile, H would blow the leaves over the bed in the fall, and I’d toss a handful or two of fertilizer over them. He’d turn them once or twice during the winter if we thought about it. Some of the leaves would decompose over the winter. Indeed, it was a poor man’s compost pile, but it worked. When spring arrived, I removed the top leaves, the ones that hadn’t decomposed, and revealed the rich soil underneath. I’d wait with great anticipation to see who would be the first to poke its head through the ground. That soil got better and better every year. After a few years, we had the richest, most friable soil in the neighborhood – black gold.IMG_6645

Perennial beds are not static. It isn’t as simple as planting something and walking away and letting it do its thing. Something would die eventually; everything has its season. Or a pest would attack something, or one plant would get all bossy and try to take over the entire bed. Even perennial beds need some balance, and they need a little tending. That was fine with me. I liked the tending part.

I nursed that bed like it was my baby. It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever created. I know Mother Nature did some of the work, but sometimes she was more trouble than help. Let’s just say that I sure was a good helpmate to her. Early every summer morning, before the suffocating heat and humidity arrived, I could be found around the side of the house, babying my perennials. I’d come upon the bumble bees while they were still sleeping. Heavy with dew, they clung to the undersides of black-eyed Susans. In the afternoons, butterflies and bees and hummingbirds and all kinds of buzzy things swarmed in and out of that bed. It was a busy place.IMG_6673

I learned that a summer mornings is about the sweetest thing you will ever come across. I’d water those flowers and fertilize them, and linger out there as long as I could, looking for one more deadhead that needed removing, one more iris or phlox that needed staking. More than a person should, I found such satisfaction in pinching off the head of a perennial. And I talked to them. They liked it and so did I.

I guess you could say that flower bed became a passion. I don’t know when I’ve ever been more enthusiastic about anything. I learned just how much pleasure could be had by messing with flowers. It’s true, you cannot eat them (most of them), but they do feed the soul. And not many things in this world do a better job of that than perennial beds.IMG_6552

When we sold our house, I took the new buyer around to the west side of the house. I was eager to talk to her about the maintenance of my pride and joy, and I kind of felt like I was giving her a present. I asked her if gardening interested her. Impassively, she replied, “No, not much.” This did not bode well for my little garden. Because it was my passion, it did not follow that it was hers.

One fall afternoon, as H and I sat on our new deck, enjoying our new backyard, my former neighbor called. Distraught, she told me how the new owners had pruned the crepe myrtle so severely that half of it was gone, how they had removed the beautiful sweet autumn clematis that framed the front door, how they’d called professionals to remove all of the huge poplars that provided dappled shade across the back part of the backyard, and they had ripped out my perennial bed. It was no more. All the neighbors were aghast. And that’s the way things go. Nothing is permanent, not even when it’s name is perennial. At first I felt sad, but it’s their house. Things change.

Our yard here is entirely too shady for a perennial bed, at least that kind of bed. I tried to recreate my Maryland bed when we moved here, but it was a no-go. Some things aren’t meant to be duplicated. We are lucky to grow azaleas. My mother’s hydrangea couldn’t make it. Lily of the valley is fine and shade-loving hostas love it here. This yard is a different kind of pretty than our Maryland yard. Sun-loving perennials can’t make it in this yard. 😦  But I have some irises that make it just fine. 🙂