This is a guest post from my friend and fellow gardener and herbalist, Victoria Polmatier. She eloquently expresses the emotions we go through when we say goodbye to friends. For gardeners and herbalists, our family of friends includes the plants we lovingly tend to in our gardens. In this heartfelt essay, Victoria describes perfectly the soulful workings of a gardener.
I find my garden to be one of my best friends. Or, should I say, it’s filled with best friends. I wander in the garden, touching and greeting the plants, enjoying their beauty, simply relaxing into the experience. I go to the garden to work when I need to get rid of excess or negative energy and return it to the Earth where it is composted and returned as calm. I sit in the garden and cry to release the pain knowing my dear friends are nearby providing silent comfort.
HOW A GARDEN GROWS
We moved two summers ago, and I had to leave my twenty year-old garden behind. I'd spent many hours creating a haven for our family and myself. There were many fond memories I'll always carry with me from that garden. In those twenty years the garden went through many incarnations. In the last ten years we lived there, I recreated the whole place. It started as a simple project of plantings around the edge of the backyard. Then I started reading about rain gardens and permaculture and food forests. I planted fruit trees in the open areas and filled in with berries and herbs and flowers. We built a greenhouse and a pond. In the height of summer, it could be difficult to move from one area to another but it was wonderful to have so many friends close by.
The front yard greeted you with a rain garden. We created a raised area on the backside and planted it with native shrubs. We hauled in rocks and placed them to create texture. The rest was planted with drought tolerant plants that could tolerate wet feet in the rainy season and dry in the summer. The shrubs were always filled with various birds who greeted us as we came and went. I loved to stand under the cover of the front entry and watch during a rainstorm as the water filled the area in the bottom, creating a temporary creek.
HERBS AND POLLINATORS
In the backyard, there was a pathway from the house to a little shop in the back corner. We planted grapes on a trellis on one side and the other side had a crabapple tree. I planted one Valerian near the crabapple tree and she planted a few more. It took two or three years and there were Valerian growing in front of the grapes and under the crabapple tree, filling the area on both sides of the pathway. Valerian is one of those herbs people either love or hate the smell of. I find it enchanting. When it was in bloom, the scent would drift across the air calling me over and attracting the bees. There was every shape and size of bee and wasp moving from flower to flower. I think Valerian hosts the widest variety I have ever seen of bee friends. I'd stand in awe, inhaling the scent and watching the bees.
In another part of the yard was a patch of Elecampane growing along a pathway. Its large, fuzzy leaves grew in clumps and then it would send up a flower stalk of yellow flowers about six or seven feet high. Eventually, the tall flower stalks would bend over across the pathway, hindering passage. The bumblebees loved the flowers and seemed to like to sit on the leaves for a rest. Walking down the pathway, I'd gently sweep my arm under the stalks and sneak past, apologizing to the plant and any bumblebees I'd disturb in the process.
THE PERSONALITIES OF PLANTS
Around to the side of the house stood the pond. It seemed to have a different feel each season. There was a large Purple Willow shrub on one end. Its long graceful limbs would arch over the end of the pond. I planted it because it was supposed to stay small but in a few years, its limbs reached fifteen to twenty feet. She was so lovely; I had a hard time cutting her back. It was a perfect example of having a lovely plant in the wrong place. It was difficult to get around and had to be watched closely. Willows have this propensity to root wherever they touch water and if I wasn't careful, the draping limbs would be well-rooted in the pond.
I'd sit by the edge of the pond listening to the birds, watching the fish swim and the bees land at the edge for a drink. One year we had these lovely red dragonflies who visited often. They'd land on the plants growing at the edge of the pond and take a rest. Another year, the entire surface of the pond was covered in Azola, a small aquatic fern, and I couldn't see into the pond. I spent the whole summer dragging out huge quantities of the plant and tossing it into the chicken yard. They'd pick at it a bit, but mostly, it would just become compost.
TAKING THE FARM TO THE COUNTRY
I loved that garden. I learned to let go of perfection there, to allow nature to do more of the weaving and myself to do more of the watching. I let the clover and the dandelions grow. In allowing nature a hand, other herbs showed up, ones I didn't plant. Then the adventure became identifying what was growing and determining if it was edible or medicinal. On occasion, something would have to be eradicated. But overall the plants wove a lovely tapestry.
When we decided to move, leaving the garden was the hardest part. It was a suburban lot, and we wanted more land. The joke was we were taking the farm to the country. In fact, I'd potted up lots of starts to take to our new home. On the last day there, I stood in the back by the vegetable garden beds and said good-bye. From that vantage point, I could look out over most of the backyard and see all we had created. As I looked forward to our new adventure, a few tears fell.
Author's Bio: Victoria Polmatier is best known for her loving heart and laughter. She loves learning, spending time in nature and sharing her knowledge through her writing. Victoria is currently working on her first book of poetry, a collection of poems written from grief after her son's death by suicide. She's a long-time organic gardener with a focus on more sustainable and gentle ways to live on the Earth. Victoria has been studying herbalism for almost ten years though her first brush with herbalism was as a child encouraging the neighbor children to eat spinach to make them strong - you know, like Popeye. Her new website, VictoriaPolmatier.com will available on May 1st, 2017. Meanwhile, you can contact her at naturedeva AT victoriapolmatier DOT com.