Thursday, November 5, 2015

Life as a Garden

I can feel the moisture from the damp grass seeping into the fabric of my jeans as I kneel, pulling up the sunflower seedlings that have sprouted beneath the bird feeder. I push my hair back and accidentally smear a bit of mud across my cheek. A row of house finches sits on the telephone line above my head, calling to one another as they watch me work, waiting for a chance to swoop in and scatter more seeds as they feast.  Sure enough, the moment I stand up and move away they fly in.

 It is so early that most of the neighbors are still asleep and as I work it feels as though I have the street to myself. Deadheading the roses, snipping lavender buds to dry, staking up a drooping delphinium, I am alone with my thoughts and I relish the quiet.  

 If you were to ask me if I am a gardener, I would say no. I never quite feel as though I am entitled to own the title. I don’t know enough. The evidence of my mistakes surrounds me each time I step out my back door. That phlox was planted too close to the front of the border. This rose is too shaded. That Hosta is wilting in a spot with too much sun. I am constantly planting and transplanting, adjusting to the demands of my tiny space. I do and then undo and do again. And that, I have decided, is precisely the appeal. 

The harshest lesson life teaches us is that there are few do-overs. We get one chance and then have to live with our mistakes. We make our beds and learn to lie in them. But a flower bed is another story. We make it, unmake it and then make it again. As often as we please. This, I think as I stand and survey what I have done, I can control. There is not much else in my life that I can say that about.

Another appeal of a garden is that it gives back. It returns the love we plant into the soil. A garden allows us to chart our progress. This is a rare thing in an ordinary life. Most of us work at marriages, at parenting and careers without the space and leisure to step back and take measure of what we’re doing. It’s only later, sometimes too much later, that we can see our mistakes, but by then its too late. But my garden guides me as I go. Too little water, too much sun, not enough fertilizer and I know. All I have to do is take the time to really look. And then I can make it right.

There is a spot on the patio where I can stand and trace the growth of a young tree I planted this spring , measuring its height against the back of the garage on the lot behind mine. Each day its uppermost branches stretch a but more and soon it will be as tall as the structure behind  the fence. The tree will be here long after I’m gone and it pleases me to watch it grow.

 I can’t wish away the the physical effects of the years behind me. I cannot undo the mistakes I have made in my life. But what I can do is step out the back door each morning, coffee in hand, and take a good long look at what’s in front of me. And if something isn’t right I can dig right in and start all over again.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap’s writes for The Spokesman-Review. This essay appeared in The Spokesman-Review's "Pinch" edition. Cheryl-Anne is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at

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