Consider the Lilies

Do you also hurry, half-dressed and barefoot, into the garden… ?

~ “Peonies,” Mary Oliver



Before we moved to a retirement community a year and a half ago, my husband was The Gardener. He had ripped out the lawn behind our house and carved an intricate meditation garden out of an ordinary backyard. It was lush with perennials and included a stone path for meandering, a holly border that sheltered us from our neighbors, and a teak bench for reading, meditating and watching fireflies. We called the space and the porch overlooking it The Garden Room.


It was a place of respite, but was a lot to maintain. When we moved he said, “Your turn. You can be The Gardener now.”


I accepted my new role with hesitation but also a sense of expectancy.


My garden canvas here is modest. It extends the length of our apartment and curves around a patio outside the bedroom window. On the advice of those with horticulture experience, I left one “leg” of the garden as planted and had the rest removed. I wanted to paint my own garden over time. Initially, because of the pandemic, it was impossible to venture out to buy plants for the fallow space, so I relied on the perennials already there to reveal themselves.


Mornings during the spring Lockdown, I pulled a director’s chair into the sun and sat beside the garden. Seemed like each day something new would push up through the earth. In contrast to the mayhem on the news and my burgeoning fear, the garden induced a stillness in me that I realized I craved.


The first discovery was lilies of the valley. Then came Solomon’s seal, with bees buzzing to capture their nectar. Then came the first shoots of what were to become bearded iris. The turgid casing of the not-quite- ready-to-bloom petals emerged from what I learned was a rhizome, a sausage-shaped lump coming out of the soil. It was all so sensual and alive.


I woke up each morning excited to see the progress, to notice how the petals unfurled. Eventually, I grabbed pencil and watercolors in an attempt to capture the unfolding magic.


In time, zinnias, hosta, lariope and daffodils joined the others, as did a Chinese hybrid hydrangea, which promises to produce yellow blossoms this fall.