Wednesday, 28 November 2012
The Baba Plant
During the spring of 2011, I did something that made D shudder. I paid a local landscaper to come and fix the horrifying mess that was once my beloved flower gardens.
I’d been sick with a dangerous gastrointestinal infection all winter, and had lost a significant amount of weight as a result. Nursing Dylan while doing an angry tango with what I’d later come to realize was postpartum depression meant that there was just no way I was able to get down and dirty with the neglected, overgrown state of my flowerbeds. On sunny days, I’d wander around the perimeter of the house with Dylan in my arms, feeling sorry for both myself and my gardens.
Whenever I moaned about my poor abandoned flowers, D would offer to “take care of them” for me. “I can do your digging, Kimmy,” he said. “But you might not like the way I do it.”
D is not a fan of growing anything that doesn’t need to be cared for with a plow and Round-Up, and while I knew he wanted to help, whenever I pictured us gardening together, it always ended with one of us stabbing the other with a shovel. I decided it would be better for our marriage if I just hired someone else, even though paying people to do things for us drives D to the very edge of crazy. But I wasn’t well, he was busy enough with work and the kids, so I got my way.
The landscaper was a lovely woman. As I showed her around Someday, she listened to all my concerns, sympathized with my health issues, raved over some of my rarer plants and laid out a reasonable plan to get everything under control. The garden revitalization project would begin the following week, she said, and she’d send three of her employees to get it started before joining them later in the day.
“Just tie something around the plants you want to keep, and we’ll thin out everything else,” she told me. So I snipped off pieces of the green gardening ribbon I’d kept from my Babushka’s tool shed after she died and tied them to my columbines, English roses, peonies, bee balm and lambs ears. I tied a big ribbon around what D called my “Baba plant.” It was a type of phlox I’d dug out of her garden before we sold her house; fragrant and purple, I’d carefully saved it from my garden in the city and transplanted it to the flowerbeds in front of the house. The Baba plant never got very big, but when it bloomed faithfully each July, I’d smile and remember my darling Russian grandmother and her passion for growing things.
I had to take Dylan for a checkup the day the landscapers came, and I waved at the crew of four employees as I drove out the lane way. They were hauling giant paper leaf bags and assorted gardening implements out of the back of their truck, ready to tackle the jungle of weeds and grass that infested my front flowerbeds. I should have gotten out of the car and warned them about my Baba plant, but I thought the ribbon would be enough of a sign. It wasn’t.
When I got back, the landscaper came over to me with a grin, eager to show me the work they’d done. I clapped my hands with joy. Everything looked so spacious, so neat and tidy, like my plants could breathe again. Then we came to the bald spot where my Baba plant had been. I burst into a spontaneous fit of weeping. Postpartum really is a bitch.
To her credit, the landscaper and her employees immediately dug through four 30-gallon leaf bags to try to find my Baba plant. Incredibly, while going through the last bag, I spotted it, complete with the green ribbon tied around the stem. “Oh Kim,” said the landscaper. “I am so sorry. This should not have happened. But I bet we can save it.” My eyes welled up again.
She helped me snip five different cuttings from the plant and bought me peat pots, soil and a special starter mix to get them to take root. We put the pots in the sun in the front porch. “Just think,” she said brightly, “you might end up with five new plants!” What I ended up with were five withered cuttings that turned into dried-up sticks.
It wasn’t really the landscaper’s fault. I blamed only myself for the mistake, and the rest of her team’s work was impeccable. She had tried hard to correct the mistake and gave me a discount on the work, along with a sincere apology and a promise that it wouldn’t happen again. After working nearly twenty years in customer service, I knew this was better restitution than I could expect from most places after an error, so she and her employees finished the contract and worked on all the other gardens - after a careful walkthrough with me and twice-daily consultations. By June, I had the clean, restful-looking gardens I’d longed for, but every time I walked past the spot where my Baba-plant used to be, I felt a little sick to my stomach.
It took me a month to finally admit to D what had happened. Proving yet again that I had married a stellar fellow, he did not once say I should have let him do the digging; he just hugged me and offered to take me to a few garden centres in Niagara to see if I could find a plant just like it. I wasn’t even sure what kind of plant it had been; I had wild thoughts of sneaking back to Baba’s old garden in New Hamburg and digging up another one, but instead I just berated myself over and over for not having taken more care with such a special flower.
The following spring I was back to my old self, which meant I was back to grubbing around in the gardens, unaided by landscapers. All the work they’d done the year before meant I had an easier time of it now. I just had to trim a few plants, pluck some stray tufts of grass and dig out a horrible spreading weed I’d christened “the pernicious crud.” As I reached for a strand of pernicious crud growing from underneath my dwarf mock orange, my hand froze. I stopped breathing. No way. It couldn’t be.
There, sprouting from its previously bald spot, was a two-inch high shoot of my Baba plant. It had four leaves, a strong stem, and it looked ridiculously healthy. I let out a squeal and dashed into the house to get D so I could show him my little miracle. It was the little plant that could.
During the midst of my postpartum, when I was feeling deeply helpless, my older sister and I had a conversation about resilience. She and my nephew were visiting from Australia for the summer and I clung to her like a life preserver on my bad days. I don’t remember exactly what she said, but I do remember her telling me that I didn’t need to be perfect, or perfectly healthy, all the time. What I needed to become was resilient.
After I witnessed the resurrection of my Baba plant, that conversation with Sissy came back to me in a rush. It keeps coming back to me at different points in my life. It’s coming back to me now, when I’m having health issues again and those old feelings of despair and helplessness want to wrap their hands around my throat. Resilience. Returning. Rebounding. Coming back to yourself after you’ve been stretched and bent so out of your normal shape you don’t think there’s anything left to come back to.
I keep seeing little signs, little reminders all around me. Maybe they’re not examples of pure resilience exactly, but still, they speak to me: the violet that peeked its purple face out of the gravel outside my office in November; the snapdragons that stubbornly continue to sprout and bloom while covered in snow; the tiny bird’s nest in our small maple tree that I must have mowed around ten times this summer without ever even noticing it before. My Baba plant, stiff and crispy now in its autumn dress, but green inside, all the way down to its tangle of roots under the surface of the earth, waiting to bound out of the dirt again next spring. All these things remind me to be keep going, and remember that coming back to myself is possible.