A Gardener’s Dream

Our new garden. © 2012 Jill HendersonBy Jill Henderson – Show Me Oz

Almost a year ago now, my husband and I settled down into our latest ‘new place’. We’ve lived quite the nomadic lifestyle over the last 20 years, moving to another house, state, or even country every few years.  In every case where it was physically possible, the first thing we did after unpacking our bags was to dig a garden.  We have hand dug and landscaped more acres of land than my back will allow me to remember, but each and every one of those gardens were lovingly created, tended and enjoyed by us for as long as we had to enjoy them.  And while it was always difficult to say goodbye, we never regretted a single one of them.

Those who don’t have gardening in their blood might be tempted to think that we would eventually get smart and stop doing all that work for just a few ears of corn or a melon here and there.  Some people even told us we should just buy our lettuce and tomatoes at the grocery store like everyone else.  But, that’s not who we are.  Because, as passionate as we were about travelling around the world and exploring new places, we have always been gardeners at heart.  Digging the earth and sowing the seed was never a question or a conundrum or even a discussion in our family.  Gardening was like breathing – something we could not stop ourselves from doing even if we wanted to.

1992  New lettuce. © 2012 Jill HendersonAfter 20 years of gardening and travelling around the world, I have met and known thousands and thousands of gardeners, all of whom share a passion that drives people like us to the edge of distraction and makes us do crazy things, like digging a brand new garden for someone else every two years or so.  Every single gardener I have ever known pours their heart into each inch of cultivated earth and every single seed sown or plant planted.  And like me, many of them take that passion beyond the cultivated bits into the wilder areas of the places they call home.

Of our many gardens, some were more special than others.   Whether it was the place itself, the plants that grew there, or the memories that seeped into the soil with our sweat, I do not know.  But I do know that in each case, the work felt just as hard and the reward just as great.  I didn’t do all that work for some glorified ideal, I did it for food and beauty and for my soul.   And while we definitely didn’t dig all those gardens just so that someone else could enjoy the fruits of our labor, I always felt good about leaving something so valuable and beautiful behind as I passed through.

On a few occasions, we knew that the people moving into our place enjoyed gardening and appreciated what we had done there.  But for the most part, we never really knew how much our work did or didn’t mean to them.  My gardener’s heart hoped and prayed that our gardens would be loved and well-cared for.  I liked to think that even if the new owners weren’t gardeners when they bought the place, that our gardens would be the spark that ignited in them a life-long passion for gardening.   That is a part of this gardener’s dream.

1995 Our Rocky Mountain Garden © 2012 Jill HendersonEven nomadic people long for home and the places they have spent a lot of time in, so whenever the opportunity to drive by one of our previous homes would come up, we’d take it.  Sometimes we would find the garden gone; buried under a manicured lawn or a new garage, or just gone back to the wild.  But sometimes we found our old garden alive and well and thriving many years after we first turned the earth with a shovel and our bare hands.  Those moments are like a revelation: it fills my heart in ways that I cannot express in words.

Of course, we will never know what has become of all of our former gardens, but I have a sneaky feeling that even if the original garden is unrecognizable, bits of it will live on, slowly etching its way into the natural landscape and becoming self-perpetuating and gleefully wild.  Like daffodils blooming in the woods where no house can be seen or an apple tree in the middle of a big field. Sights like that are a lovely and lonely testament to a garden – and a gardener – long past.  Will the daffodils I planted at the edge of the driveway someday be but wisps of color along a silent woodland path? Will the fronds of my asparagus bend and sway in a grassy meadow amidst wildflowers? I hope so.

2001 Garden on the edge of wilderness.  © 2012 Jill HendersonAs a gardener who knows a lot about leaving, I also know that I am not the first to ever do so. For, at almost every new place I have ever lived – including this current one – I have rejoiced in some wonderful garden find. A lovely ornamental tree, a mature asparagus bed, a patch of irises or an old-fashioned rose lost in a tangle of weeds. Each plant cries out for room and light and the hands of a caring gardener like me to bring them back to their former glory – or at least, try.

As I care for those plants and the land all around them, I imagine the one who planted them. I wonder how long it has been since they were here last and what has become of them. I wonder what the garden might have looked like then and if they might someday drive by to see if I’ve cared for it the way they did.  I even wonder if they aren’t still here, tending a garden that I can’t quite see through the layers of years gone by.

2008 Found irises get a new lease on life.  © 2012 Jill HendersonIt was during one of my most recent plant finds at my new and promisingly permanent home, that it dawned on me: I might become, or perhaps already had become, a mystery gardener like the one who just made my day.  Today her joy became my joy.  One day, my joy will undoubtedly belong to another. I can see it in my mind: A young couple buys an old house to fix up. They walk hand in hand around the overgrown yard imaging what it would look like with a little bit of work… And somewhere along the edge of the woods or hidden beneath the mature fruit trees that once were but my dream, a bright patch of flowers catches her eye and she knows in her heart I that I was once there.

Jill Henderson is an artist, author and the editor of Show Me Oz

© 2012 Jill Henderson – reprints with permission.

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10 responses to “A Gardener’s Dream

  1. Oh Jill………..so perfectly described for those of us who have moved and moved….we recall our gardens the most. The wondering never stops about how it is tended, loved or as you said that there’s a hopeful “spark”that another will take up the passion for it as well. I know wherever you’ve gardened it is bound to be hallowed ground & your prose adds more beauty to the life pathway you’ve llived. Thanks for the visual heart you have.

    • And thank you for all your kind words and encouragement, Jerre! Of course, you have played your part in this gardener’s dream. I couldn’t begin to count the plants and starts that you have given to us as we ‘started over’, not to mention all your enthusiastic support. We’ve been so lucky to have such wonderful friends.

  2. Jill, nice article! As I read your writing I was brought back to my childhood in which my mom and dad always had a garden full of fresh vegetables, even the winter crops of collards, mustard greens cabbages, and cauliflower, among others.

    I left home in my teens to find my way and in so doing left the country life behind. Not only in location, but also in thought. I’m sixty now, married thirty seven years, with grown children, and 4-year-old-granddaughter. I’m retired, was successful in life, and could move pretty much anywhere on earth and live any chosen city or resort type of lifestyle. However, I am blessed to say, my country roots are still holding on to the memories of my childhood, and the farm life beckons to me once again.

    I’ve begun looking for a farm in the Ozarks where I can plant and grow, and harvest my own food. I long for the smell and taste of cucumbers plucked right off the vine while still chilled and wet with the night’s dew. I can relate to your saying gardening is a “passion that drives people like us”. Once it’s in your blood, even from your childhood, it remains forever. Thanks again for the article; you have encouraged me to continue my quest to return to the best years of my life, on a farm. Barry

    • Thanks, Barry. I’m glad you like the story and that it brought back such fond memories. Gardens have ways of doing that, no matter how long it has been. Some of my earliest memories include me standing at the sink watching my mom peel and slice fresh apples from our tree for canning. I didn’t like apple peels, except for when my mom would cut them off of the fruit in long springy spirals – then, they were the best thing I had ever eaten. I think you’ll enjoy living in the Ozarks and I wish you the best of luck in finding the perfect place!

  3. ‘As a gardener who knows a lot about leaving’ is such a potent phrase. I love your mention of the hidden secrets, plants that may return or patterns of rock that may be recognized as coming from the hands and heart of someone not known but who once loved a place. xxx

    • Thank you, Sara. As you well know, we leave bits of our souls in the places we have been and loved well and that leaving is bittersweet. I’ve always had a thing for wanting to know about the place in which I live and who and what came before. It is always the hidden gems that make that connection real.

  4. Jill, as I read this article I was moved almost to tears. Rarely does a written article affect me, however this brouight back memories of my grandparents, and how mly mother always wants to drive by where the house once stood and remember. I remember my mother as she moved from her house of 40 yrs and how she hated leaving her flowers. I go by the house every so often and find that its now not being lived in, the garden are over grown but I can still remember it as it once was. Hopefully my children will passs our house one day and have those memories. Hopefully our house will find a gardener to take over.

    • Thank you, Bill. What wonderful, sweet memories you have of your family and your childhood home. As you already know, gardens have a way of linking generations together in ways they never expected. I hope that someday the house and its gardens will be rediscovered and cherished the way your mother cherished them. Until then, hold those memories close to your heart. All the best, Jill

  5. Love, Love this article. I could feel your heart as I read it. I love that movie “The Secret Garden” the way those children transformed that old abandoned garden. I often wonder if I should ever have to leave my garden what would become of it…if unattended would it be the maple trees, red beds, ivy or the Wisteria that would take over…but the garden would still be there. I am fortunate we have not moved and like you gardening has to be in your soul and heart. But then it is how we were created. God created man and woman and gave them the Garden of Eden to tend the garden. It is how we were created…and because God created us to tend the garden it shows me the heart of God. Then I look at all the amazing varieties of fruits and vegetables of all the different areas of the world and you and Dean have been so blessed and fortunate to see and experience this. Now that is a BLESSING. God could’ve gave us just “manna” to eat and sustain life but no He gave us such a variety and array…once again it shows God Character…to sum it up God is Love! thank you for the beauty you offer the world and to our little community of the Ozarks. You are very special indeed.

    • Thank you, Mary! I’m so glad you enjoyed this and that it touched you so deeply. I can’t even begin to imagine Maranatha abandoned and wild, but if it were, it would continue to be filled with life and love. Many have found peace and solace in your gardens as it is easy to feel close to God and the creation energy that resides in a place as diverse and alive as that. It is easy to forget the blessings in times of drought like this, but each ripe tomato, melon or bean that we pick from our gardens are just that.

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