I read an article this morning about the Tate Gallery, in London that proudly displays a painting of Gertrude Jekyll's boots.
How I admire that painting. Gertrude Jekyll was a gardening legend in plant circles, for those who don't know. She was a self proclaimed gardening artist. A very humble woman who laid no claim to gardening expertise but created some of the world's most famous gardens and shared freely with the world what worked for her and what didn't.
Gardeners are like that. They are a friendly lot for the most part, who love to share, plants, knowledge, and a great deal of humor. At least, that has been my experience over the years.
My story begins with a little old lady with white hair and parchment paper-thin skin, gnarled old arthritic hands and the most beautiful roses I had ever seen before. I had never given much thought to gardening. I loved nature but forests were where you found plants. I was a city kid. We had lawns to mow and the odd tomato plant to look after but aside from that, nature was what you got to enjoy when you went camping while on vacation, a fact of my life up to that point.
Arta Kelley's house was lovely. A bright sunny yellow with white trim and a deep set porch with inviting chairs set between large planter boxes overflowing with the sweetest, tiny star-shaped white flowers. We had just moved into the neighborhood and while I was too shy to introduce myself, I often stood at the edge of her yard and simply admired the tall canopy of her maple trees overhead. Her garden was immaculate, the trees stately and tall, roses prim and proper in their beds. The gravel beneath, completely void of leaf clutter.
Her smile invited me closer and the beauty of her garden and my sense of curiosity made me find my voice. In her hands she held a well used pair of pruning shears. Her hands although bent and frail, spoke of strength as did her wise, honest, blue eyes framed in a network of fine wrinkles that suggested years of squinting against the sun.
Her bent frame, covered in a long man's work shirt, frayed at the elbows, belayed years of toiling in the soil, years of creating her art showed also, in the fine lines and creases of every finger. The back of her hand was a road map of veins and callous crisscrossing the surface of her skin.
I found her to be absolutely beautiful. She became my best friend. I loved her with more fervor than anyone I'd ever chosen in my young life.
I knew the gift that I was receiving in the time that she shared with me. She was very old and very wise. I paid close attention, no small feat for a child of nine years.
She was a true visionary, a woman who conducted a symphony of color in the garden and I was awe struck and honored that she was willing to share her time with me.
I learned hard lessons in that friendship, character building lessons of patience, quiet, stillness, of letting things happen and understanding that nothing lasts forever, not even beautiful old gardeners.
Every year when I plant my garden and worry over the weather, every year that I enjoy the sunshine against my back as I toil away in one garden bed or another, I feed the birds and am reminded of Mrs. Kelley. I am thankful that gardeners are a friendly lot.
When I listen for the bird song, and I do so often, I remember the things that she taught me. Good, practical advice for a happy soul, as we sat in the shade of that deep-set porch. Feed the birds, she said, be content as you watch them fill their bellies. To them, each seed is an assurance that there will be a tomorrow. We feed them now in the hopes that when our gardens bloom, they will eat the bad bugs and we will reap our harvest.
I have learned that,
Gardeners are artists whose tools are living things.
Gardeners are visionaries with a hopeful spirit.
New gardeners, whether it is their intent or not, ultimately give up and peruse other people's gardens or learn patience.
Gardens are as much about death as they are about life.
Gardeners spend most of the time on their knees. This is an easy way to learn humility, don't you think?