Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Morning Glory

When dementia stole my mother-in-law’s ability to live in the present, we would often try to comfort her with the past. She was born in the sitting room of our old farmhouse, so visiting us was like a trip back in time.

Most Sundays Brian would pick Elsie up from the retirement home where she lived and bring her to the one place that was still familiar to her. She would often just sit in the bay window of our kitchen and gaze wistfully out over the fields where she once played as a child.

“I used to run in those fields forever,” she would say. “Back when my legs could carry me all day without stopping.”

When the weather was agreeable, she would sit in a chair on the front lawn and enjoy the sunshine. On a very good day, when the pain in her legs relented, she would walk over to our vegetable garden and inspect her son’s work with a beam of pride.

A child of farmers, Elsie had spent most of her life dallying in the dirt. Until time and circumstance forced her to move from the house that she had shared with her husband Jack for almost 50 years, Elsie always had a very practical vegetable garden. Her flower garden, on the other hand, contained a wonderful collection of plants that I’d never seen – vibrant red nicotina and pastel four o’clocks, snowdrops and delphiniums. By mid-summer, her labors would fill their acre of property with a riot of color and their freezer with enough vegetables to get them through the winter.

One spring, a few years before she died, we decided to help Elsie revisit the joy of gardening. I purchased one of those plastic mini greenhouse trays and a packet of morning glory seeds. When Elsie came to visit for Easter Sunday, we put her to work, helping us to plant the tiny seeds. The arthritis that crippled her hands was no match for her determination. She seemed to come alive as she painstakingly placed a seed in each of the small little boxes and carefully, lovingly, covered them with dirt.

We placed the tray in a sunny spot in our kitchen window, with the hope that the seeds would germinate and sprout in time for May planting.

We didn’t have long to wait. The tiny shoots burst from the soil in a matter of a few days. Within a few weeks the plants were ready for the garden, weeks ahead of schedule. Brian placed a couple of plants at the base of each of the porch posts, underneath the deck on our garage, and even at the base of our basketball net.

By midsummer, the plants had taken over, wrapping their delicate stalks around anything they could to climb. Everywhere you looked there were ribbons of green, waving in the slightest breeze, covered with a riot of purple, pink and lavender flowers. It was spectacular.

And then one morning, at the very first frost, they were gone. The vines had shriveled into a crushed darkened thread, and the flowers had somehow disappeared into themselves. Just like that.

Brian collected the seeds that the morning glories had left behind, and replanted them the next spring. Experience had taught us that life that eager to explode didn’t need help to germinate.

This spring, there wasn’t any need to replant. The fragile, stoic, brilliant little remnants from last summer’s bounty had already reseeded themselves. Once again, every upright is covered in a mass of waving, gentle vines, covered in beautiful little pastel trumpets that very soon will disappear.

Too soon, as the first frost of autumn kisses each magnificent plant, it will fade into a sunny memory, like my good friend, Elsie.

We are each given one dance on this Earth. We can choose to plant flowers and watch them grow – reveling in their beauty. We can mourn their loss and let that grief wrap its darkened thread around our spirits, or we can take joy in the hope of renewal – remembering that even as the days grow darker and colder, somewhere tiny seeds wait quietly to bring life to a new spring.


Heritage Flower Farm has an amazing selection of heritage plants and seeds.


Anonymous Dave Renaud said...

Hi Suzanne,
I will personally miss your writing. When I read your thoughts, it’s like I'm hearing them right from your mouth. It’s always a comfortable and educational read for me.

Thank you for sharing yourself with so many.

October 13, 2009 11:33 AM  

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