Kukka by Sally Kilgore: Digging Quietude

ROCKWALL, TX (July 19, 2022) I wandered into the garden this morning to sit with my blank pages, not knowing what I might write.  It took moments for the words to come. Please bear with me through another garden column.  I try not to write about the garden incessantly, but this time of year (ok, any time of year) words of plants and blooms simply come to me. My mind fills with the garden and stays close to bursting in spring and summer. I tend to blurt out partial sentences to The B.O.B. (Big Old Bear – long suffering husband) such as – “I think I’ll move that Black and Blue Salvia up closer to the front of the garden as it is not doing well in this spot, and then I can put in another Drift Rose, maybe a few Speedwell.”  He tends to say “Okaaaay” – steadfastly tolerant, unquestioning, oblivious to which plant and which spot I am bringing to his attention; likely wondering how much I will spend at the nursery next.  Sometimes The B.O.B. might attempt at identifying a sweet coral rose as “that red flower”, or a Silver Mist Artemisia as “the round, fluffy looking thing.”  He knows four basic colors – red, white, black, blue and sometimes green, and he knows no variations of those basic colors. Mauve, Coral, Pink and Magenta are all Red to the Bear. The Bear is fearful, I am certain, that I will come to bed some night with garden snippers in hand, primed to deadhead anything in sight. This is a silly trepidation, really. My snips are always returned to their spot on the patio.

Days begin in the peace of my garden. Late spring, summer and fall mornings find me outside, with coffee and a kitty. Winter’s chilly mornings, not so much. Mornings (and evenings when I force myself to put down the garden tools) are when I soak in the pleasant result of my self-imposed toil in the garden. The toil which hurts my muscles, causes aches that keep me awake at night, bring stiffness everywhere. Still, I work the garden with a passion. Or is it madness? The end result is loveliness. Always changing – because I am always moving, adding, transplanting, amending, feeding, and some stuff just dies. While I admire a garden that is sculpted and structured, there is not enough life for me there. Life is color, movement, textures. Loose un-sculpted shapes formed by Mother Nature. This is the garden that bursts forth from my labors, overflowing its borders. For others, it is the sculpted, formal design, for many it is rows and rows of beans, tomatoes and zucchini.

Garden labors are not worked sweetly, in clean garden clothes, rolled up sleeves of a crisp chambray shirt, brimmed hat, basket and pristine gloves. My gloves are floral printed and sweet – fresh from the package. Typically, in a matter of moments, they are stained green, brown and soiled, and soon the fingertips wear through.  Gloves are hosed off daily and laid on the outside kitchen windowsill, to dry in the sun on the brick ledge.  Several pair may be found there at any given time.  My arms are marked by sun and the snags of rose thorns or branches.  Hands with rough dirty nails, fingers turning lumpy with arthritis. I recently suffered the dividend for gardeners – a rose thorn infection in my finger, it was not pretty. My knees! Insert laughter here. Red and rough, often tender from kneeling in the mulch or on the border stones, while wearing shorts and without using my knee pad. When I come in from the garden there will be garden soil in all crevices. Sweat stings my eyes. If I have worn a hat, it is not pulled off gracefully, freeing swinging, shiny, hair.  Rather, a soaked mess, well plastered to my head in places, sticking out in others, emerges from my hat. My clothing wet from sweat and the hose.

More often than not, I require the bags of compost or pea gravel NOW, not when it is convenient to arrange for someone to haul them in for me.  I get a big workout, with my trusty garden wagon loaded up. Thus goes the morning, afternoon, evening of a gardener. Night is for putting feet up with a relieved sigh. Tottering off to lay my tired bones in the bed, with a toddy of warm tap water and Aleve.

I am often told “you should be a professional garden planner!” “You could make a living at this!”  This might or might not be true. I might have studied, and drawn garden plans as a means to earn my keep. As it is, I am just a backyard gardener, though I love to share the joy. I am pleased to provide tips and plant suggestions with friends and acquaintances. I have been known to draw out garden plans for a few friends. I enjoy sharing in their enthusiasm, seeing others’ gardens flourish, hearing their progress.

My plan was to sleep in today. But poor Bob (Bob the Cat – not to be mistaken for The B.O.B.  This is a confusing fact of the Kilgore life. I must frequently remind folks what my long suffering husband’s name actually is, because I so frequently call him The B.O.B., and then throw in a cat named Bob Kilgore for interest.)  Bob the Cat did not get outside yesterday, so when I awoke at 6:30, I listened to my caring side and got up for early coffee and a few notes outdoors, while my feline companion wandered the garden.

The coffee is sipped. On a quiet summer morning, the hum of night is replaced with birdsong and a barking dog far away. A lazy song of the cicadas wafts back and forth, long and slow, an old, oscillating sprinkler of sound from one side of the landscape to the other. The relaxing hum a part of summer, just as the heat.

I’ll forgo grasshopper murder this morning as I am feeling lazy. Grasshoppers are the bane of my existence. With maniacal glee, they chomp and chew through vines and leaves, bringing my plants to their knees. Rose of Sharon is now tattered and scrawny looking, though she continues to valiantly put out pink blooms. Bless her heart. Several large, chewing beasts have been located within her limbs and brought to their doom. One of my two treasured Clematis has been gnawed to a stub. Her tender, winding vine and delicate green leaves obliterated by a green or brown crunching creep. They hover in the plants, leaping away from me and laughing, I am certain. There are moments when I become a cursing murderer. The filthy language distracts me from considering that my bare hand is crushing the guts of an insect. Shudder. The best way to obliterate grasshoppers is by hand. I go slowly forth and grab with a mighty fist, all squeamish thoughts generating to murderous rage. I squeeze harder, crush and drop the body. If they show any sign of life – I stomp them. They are wily creatures and will fake death only to laugh and leap yards from me.

I welcome the other insects in the garden. They all have a place. Spiders make webs in corners to capture flies. Praying mantis are growing ever so slowly after hatching on my back porch. I wish they would get large and eat the grasshoppers! Praying mantis do not seem to grow with the speed in which baby grasshoppers turn into destructive fiends. A snake or two might come round, occasionally. They slither on through and we try not to bother each other. They are welcome to down a rat or two if they come across any. Toads are a delight, though if I accidentally step on one barefoot, I will shriek just a little. Anoles  – I miss the anoles! They have not yet discovered The Mildscape and I am eager for the day they arrive. Cardinals are treated with highest regard here. Their brilliant red a delight, their shy manners cause them to dash away at the slightest movement. While they are at St Francis’ bowl, cracking into seeds, or dipping into the bird bath, I try to be   s t i l l.  Not even a movement to try to catch them in a phone photo. The Finch’ come in threes or fours or more, creating a merry ruckus upon arrival, positioning to be first on the feeder. Of course, the bossy hummingbirds delight as they hover and squeak, finally perching on the round red topped vessel of nectar – to tip their beaks in and out sipping or perhaps slurping.

From this old green bench in the back corner, I can view the entire garden. Empress on her shabby green throne. Rather – the slave taking an illicit seat while she ought be pulling sprigs of invading Bermuda, or clipping blooms that are finished. Spread before me, brilliant purple Gomphrena and blooming Abelia are going strong, and the soft pink Summer Phlox is putting up a valiant fight with triple digit heat. My eyes pause on the gorgeously full, brilliant coral Drift Roses, and a darling, orange-coral-peach rose named Easy Does It. I catch the eye of a black and white kitty, Bob, watching me as he enjoys his morning respite in the garden.

The bees bumble about, literally – big round bumble bees, humorous as they wobble and buzz, pulling from the varied blooms the stuff they desire.

My garden though not huge, is fairly expansive, and filled to the brim. It takes approximately  half of my backyard, with a sliver of grass between stone garden border and house. Trees dot the three sides, bushes and roses bloom throughout. Many of the flowers are natives, drought resistant, and butterfly – hummingbird draws. As I look across, it is not a stagnant view, but full of movement and one buzzes by my hand! The cicada buzz abruptly stops, leaving a sudden silence. Now I can hear the birdsong again!

I worked this place from a fully sodded yard, breaking ground just a year ago. I had sod removed and stone borders installed. Then I amended the soil and planted, nurtured, waited the winter long wondering what would survive. A joyous greeting was given to the green sprouts pushing through the mulch in spring sunshine.

For gardeners, the garden is life sustained, lived each day of the year long. We make the time for our garden, big or small. Gardeners possess the willingness, the passion, and the need to nurture.

It has been said, and I wish I knew who said it first, that the gardener does not nurture the garden with her attentions. Rather it is the garden who nurtures the gardener. I know this to be true. In the garden there is always purpose. Always struggle. Always reward.

You need not have a large, labor inducing patch, such as the madness in my yard. Only a spot of green, a tree perhaps, a small patch to dig in or a pot of flowers, maybe some grass. Set your chair there. Feel the sun rising higher in the morning. Feel the bit of breeze move across your shoulder and through your hair. Listen to the birds, and the cicadas. Feel your body relax, heartrate slow, breath ease as you enjoy the Earth gladly provided by Mother Nature, God and all the powers that be.

Wishing you a spot of peace this day.

By Sally Kilgore of Fate. Sally is a former resident of Rowlett, and a recent transplant, across the lake, to Fate, Texas. She is married to her long time flame, Chris Kilgore. When not writing, gardening, filling in at the local flower shop or hanging out with grandkids, Sally devotes her time to serving Bob Kilgore, a well sized, Tuxedo cat with panache.

Read more of her column, Kukka (Finnish for bloom or flower) at BlueRibbonNews.com. You can contact Sally at sallyakilgore@gmail.com or via her website: www.sallyakilgore.com.

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