Putting Down Roots: Not for the Timid

My husband and I both enjoy gardening, but we typically don’t garden at the same time. Our styles and techniques couldn’t be more polar opposite. I’m a timid gardener: I don’t often trust my own intuition about what plants need, and I usually have an uneasy feeling that a neighbor or passerby will see me in the garden and click their tongue at the inept way I’m doing whatever it is I’m doing. The only time I really hit my stride is when attacking a sworn weed-enemy (I’m looking at you, creeping Charlie!). Once I get going, I love removing weeds. Maybe it’s because weeding is a lot like my day job as an editor—there’s something satisfying about taking the excess (words or weeds) and removing their chokehold on the beautiful, colorful bouquet in the center, whether that bouquet is made of flowers or paragraphs.

By comparison, my husband is a confident gardener. When he looks at our garden, he sees a better version of it in his head, then he somehow knows how to make it happen. His laser focus identifies hostas and grasses that have expanded to thick clumps so that he can divide them up into more manageable plant babies. He digs deep beneath the roots, pulls them out, sticks them in a wheelbarrow, then plants them in their new home in a different corner of the garden. 

His physical, visceral attack on the daisies, the brown-eyed Susans, and the coneflowers comes across as almost violent to me. How can you take a shovel, disrupt the earth beneath these delicate flowers, and rip them from their home? How do they tolerate the shock of leaving the cool, damp earth, only to have their roots exposed to the unforgiving sun? Then, after a bumpy wheelbarrow ride, how can they possibly endure having their roots squashed back into a gaping hole before being assaulted by frigid water rushing from the garden hose? I shudder to think of it. I rarely stay to watch. I, the timid gardener, can’t take the spectacle.

Is it much different when we humans pack up our belongings and move to a new home, a new city, a new job? We feel exposed and tender and a little bruised, and there are moments when we may feel the shift is too much to bear. But slowly, gradually, our roots repair themselves and start reaching down deep toward the center of the earth, while simultaneously spreading our arms out, to embrace our new environment. We discover that the corner of the world where we were planted might have been good for a while, but there are so many other beautiful places to establish new roots. We discover we’re hardier than we think: delicate in appearance, but strong and sinewy where it matters.

It never fails. My husband, the violent gardener, knows what he’s doing. He knows that sometimes the most delicate beings are oftentimes the strongest; who are we to underestimate them? Before long, the daisies, the brown-eyed Susans, and the coneflowers are dancing whimsically in the breeze in their new spot. They stand tall, rising to the occasion of being dressed in sweet-smelling mulch contained by crisp, sharp edging. Heads are faced upwards. Faces are open and smiling. Ready to face this new world.

Originally published July 1, 2021 on My Huntley News

4 thoughts on “Putting Down Roots: Not for the Timid

  1. sharon schlundt July 7, 2021 / 1:29 pm

    Interesting analogy.  You must always have to keep your eyes open for new subjects and new deadlines.

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  2. Julie Armstrong July 7, 2021 / 1:56 pm

    Beautifully written! Nothing ventured, nothing gained… even in the garden!

    Sent from my iPhone

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  3. Claudia Stenvig-Olsen July 7, 2021 / 3:59 pm

    Carol, I love your blog! Dave and I sold our 1927 cottage in Elmhurst and recently moved to Mequon, WI. I miss my friends but we’re gradually adjusting to new soil just like those coneflowers in your garden. We’re living in an apartment temporarily while we looked for and found a home and now while we have some remodeling done. Thanks for sharing your beautiful writing!

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  4. Maria July 11, 2021 / 11:55 pm

    Great read! I usually picture the children in my class as different plants, when I sit down to consider how I best can meet individual needs.

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