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Elizabeth Knox

Woman of a Garden

What Motley grows in this woman’s garden –
Transcendental tulips, sardonic snapdragons
Kindhearted daisies, level headed juniper
God-fearing jacks-in-the-pulpit
Thrillseeking birds of paradise
Zen buddists and other sports of nature –
A riot of wonderful blooms thriving in wild harmony.

From the health of the garden we infer the gardener’s wisdom,
The care and patience, the trial-and-error (a mother’s only mentor)
It must have taken to unearth
The secret course of each seedling’s unruly nature –
The marginals, the tender climbers
The ramblers and trailers, shade-lovers and acid-eaters
Each an experiment in character and color
Each craving a certain depth of soil, a witch’s brew of nutrients
A fresh concoction of darkness and light
attention and vigilant neglect
each needing a new microclimate of love.

Some blossom early
Some only in moonlight
Some linger in vague, autistic dormancy
Shying away from unready germination
Envious of the bolder bulbs.
Others, resisting gardens and gardeners,
Sprout willy-nilly, leap over borders
Uproot themselves from rose-sick soil
Squander seeds, flirt with flighty hummingbirds
Go deadheading across the land
And then return in full flower one golden spring morn

In the heady seasons of constant bloom
She chatters on gaily about yesteryear’s troubles-
Bulbs refused to bed together
Juveniles dazed by transplant shock
Gangly pubescent vines insisted on training themselves
Adolescents issued righteous manifestos protesting pruning.
There were well-intentioned grafts that wouldn’t take,
Rainless nights spent worrying over water-robbing weeds
And other bad companions.
Bitter nights she could do nothing but watch and wait
As the frost of first disillusion found her tender buds without cover.
Drought, not, slugs gave lessons in humility.
Each blossoming brought forth pride.

It takes countless seasons for the garden to grow the gardener
Harvests of thorny demands and embryonic delights
Her seeds have spread across the landscape now
Tending gardens of their own
But there’s work to be done.
The established climbers still need training
The mature ones could do with a little pinching back
The arborvitae could stand more seasoning.
She strolls among the generations in her dreams –
She won’t rest easy till they’re settled in their permanent beds.

In a desert herb garden
Among climbing roses and sage companions
I saw sister rosemary, fragrant in flower, fresh as sea dew.
She’s no shrinking violet.
Hardy, tolerant of stingy soil, bending with the breeze
She rose toward the sky with evergreen ease
And embraced the full light of day.

-John Nelson for his sister Rosemary
May 1993