My Flower Garden

"My Flower Garden"

copyright 2010 Mitchell James Kaplan

The flowers in my garden are finally blooming. I planted them years ago, some from seed and some from the nursery. I picked exotic flowers. Flowers you don't often see in this climate. Flowers known to be difficult.

Every year, I made the rounds with my watering can. Every year, I fed them with Miracle-Gro and dug up the weeds. The blossoms never came. I got plenty of branches, though.

You have to understand, I spent my childhood touring the gardens of the world: the Koraku-en gardens in Okayama, the Baha'i gardens in Haifa, the Castello di Villa gardens in Florence.

I read books about gardening from childhood on and majored in Landscaping at the Oriental Horticulture Institute. The sight of beautiful flowers, draped over a wooden fence or peering up from a bed of coffee-black soil, brings tears to my eyes. The fragrances of jasmine, rose, gardenia, and lavender are, to me, like an olfactory intimation of something too perfect to be real.

So I invested in better tools, better fertilizer, better water. As gardening technology improved, my research kept apace. I aerated the dirt. I put down runoff sheets. I kept tabs on nitrogen levels and pH.

Still, year after year, the blossoms stayed away. I told myself that those who measured a man by his garden were fools. I tried to hold my own in the company of men whose gardens were blooming. But I was faking it.

I admired the dahlias, hibiscus, and lilies in my neighbor’s yard. When we happened to cross paths, she smiled and asked about my parents. Both of us knew she was humoring me.

Finally, she invited me into her garden. “I’m going to be quite busy through the spring and summer seasons,” she told me as we strolled through her heady sprays. “I was wondering whether you could care for my plants.”

It was absurd, of course. It was charity. It was an insult. I accepted gratefully.

In the eyes of the world, I told myself, it made sense. She was a successful businesswoman, pulled in many directions. I was home, a kind of cripple, unable to hold a regular job.

In her garden, I rapidly coaxed gorgeous narcissus flowers, roses of sharon, even water lilies from their green cradles. "You see," my neighbor told me, returning from a trip to Taiwan. "You are a great gardener, after all."

I looked down from my attic-bedroom window, admiring my work just the other side of the fence. It didn't feel like success. It felt like a Madame Toussaud wax effigy of success. My own garden, after all, remained sterile.

Sometimes I doubted myself. I reflected upon the sins I had committed, convinced this was a matter of "flower karma." I told myself that all gardens are illusory, or that what mattered was the act of gardening itself, not the flowers.

Everyone had advice. "Gardening isn't your thing," said my therapist. “Accept your limitations.” The hunchback at the nursery told me, "What you planted doesn't grow in this soil." My mother insisted I would be happier in a condo. Then she stopped speaking with me.

As my failuure grew, so did my obsession. I went to bed thinking of flowers and awoke earlier than anyone to stroll in my garden, talk to my plants, water and feed them. Sometimes I sang the Beatles song "I'll Get You" to my inexistent buds. "It's not like me to pretend, but I'll get you in the end." Other times, I sat down with my guitar and strummed. "Will I wait a lonely lifetime? If you want me to, I will." The neighbors, spying me serenading the bare branches, must have thought I was nuts.

I never thought I would survive this long, let alone that my survival would be rewarded.

This April, the blossoms burst forth from their sprigs. First came the delicate Spring Snowflakes, peering up between the blades of my lawn like some kind of harbinger. I hadn’t even planted them.

Then the blackberry flowers, the butterfly bush, the tulips.

Songbirds birds have alighted as if to celebrate. Right now, a blue-winged leafbird is whistling in one of the rhododendron bushes. Sparrows chirp in the trees, and pipits hop around in the grass. I walk into my garden and their songs surround me in glorious polyphony, like a choir of angels.

Sometimes I think it's an illusion, that I'm dreaming. I marvel at the delicacy of the buds. I know they will fall off shortly. I wonder whether the flowers will return next year. But I'm trying not to think about that. I'm trying to enjoy the moment. And I'm planting a few more jonquils and lilacs, just in case.