When we took on our garden three years ago, decades of neglect had left it as overgrown and impenetrable as Sleeping Beauty’s castle. For passers-by there was nothing to see beyond the scruffy gate wedged into a tall, tangled thicket.
Once we fought our way in, we discovered twenty gnarled
apples and pears choked with ivy and a ‘boundary’ of rotten blackthorns held vaguely upright by bramble and barbed wire. That first summer we slashed, strimmed and dug, and as rusty corrugated iron, the skeletons of broken glasshouses, buried car parts and a set of peeling formica kitchen units were sent on their way to the local tip, the old fruit trees were unveiled and new saplings, shrubs and
climbers heeled in.
Our dawn to dusk slog was made bearable by the encouragement not just of gardening neighbours, but of the many dog-walkers and runners who came by each day. As autumn approached, first one passer-by then another remarked how lovely it was to be able to see the apples ripening on our trees and to follow our steady if slow progress.
It was around that time I came across a beautiful essay on other people's gardens by the American psychologist
Gretchen Schmeltzer. It made me think not only about the pleasure I hope others gain from our plot, but about the many gardens, window-boxes and tubs that have invoked a treasured memory or added a moment of joy to my own day over the years. Few of their owners would have had any inkling...
AN OPEN THANK YOU NOTE TO MY NEIGHBORS AND THEIR GARDENS
‘Thank you. Every day I walk past your yards and gardens and homes and every day I am the grateful and fortunate recipient of beauty and surprise and love.
You have no idea how much your snowdrops and crocus and daffodils mean to me in early spring. How much I delight and say hello to each one like a long lost relative. How much I appreciate your hard work in autumn that allows for such a sweet surprise in the spring.
You couldn’t possibly know that your peonies would bloom on the day that I had gotten bad news and so desperately
needed to see their full pink beauty, and put my face down into their blossoms to smell their sweet smell. How much
those flowers remind me of someone dear, who passed away years ago, and whose words and counsel I desperately needed that day and found, once again, in the beauty of your flowers.
You may look out at your own gardens and see only the things that you haven’t done, or the weeds that are creeping in, but not me. I love the rag-tag orange daylilies and even the cornflower that you didn’t weed away, with that blue color you just want to swim in. I love the flowers when they are blooming and even when they aren’t. I love the giant false-indigo plant after it has bloomed, with its gorgeous black pods laced within their leaves.
I am grateful to the neighbor whose garden contains one of my favorite plants - an old-fashioned pale yellow foxglove - a plant I had once grown myself, brought home from a garden in Maine. Seeing those foxgloves is like a visit from an old friend and an old self when I get to pass by it. A chance to hold my history with one flower.
Some of you would (and do) swat away compliments of your gardens, saying that they are nothing special. But there is one simple truth about gardens. There are no ordinary gardens. Because there are no ordinary flowers. They are all extraordinary. They are a miracle of color and delicate sculpture. Whether it is a sophisticated delphinium or a common marigold, your flowers knock me over. They cheer me on my worst days and they feel like a festive surprise party on my best days.
And it’s not just your flowers, but also your trees. You have beeches that make me want to read old fairy tales and pines that have, sometimes, not one, but two cardinals sitting in the branches. You have weeping willows and sugar maples. You have a cherry tree I walk an extra block to see.
And when you planted the stand of bright red bee balm, did you know I would walk past as five hummingbirds sipped from the blossoms at an all-you-can-eat nectar buffet? That I would stand for nearly five minutes not seven feet away from this amazing sight witnessing some of the best moments that nature can offer? That you created? Where can I even begin to express my gratitude for such beauty, so freely given?
And you, neighbor, who thinks because you only have two flowerpots of bright pink geraniums, that you aren’t a gardener. You couldn’t know that my grandmother had two big pots of geraniums that she put on her front steps every summer, just like you, and brought inside, into her hallway in the winter. That every morning I pass your house, I get a visit with my grandmother, get to hear her encouragement one more time. Your two flowerpots of geraniums make my day. They make me a better person.
You see, you think you are just gardening. Putting your hands in dirt and putting out a beautiful flower or two. But you are doing so much more. You are creating a place for people to heal, to grow, to tap back into their relationships and memories and become the best of themselves that day. Your generosity is immense - you create all of this beauty and you ask nothing in return. It is an amazing, radical, and world-changing act and I thank you with all of my heart.'
© copyright 2015 Gretchen L.Schmelzer PhD