In the spring I heard an interview with CBC Radio garden specialist Lyndon Penner in which he enthusiastically encouraged listeners to plant sunflowers because they just “grow” without much prompting. I was skeptical, but decided to try it by the fence where we’d excavated a small area that had previously been a mess of stones and tree stumps. Since it was going to be a busy summer and we wouldn’t have time to do much with this small plot (that’s just an excuse — we aren’t gardeners or landscapers), Russ decided it might be a cool idea to also sow it in wildflowers and see what happens. I planted a row of dianthus seedlings to make sure there was something in the meanwhile.
I felt like The Sower in Vincent van Gogh’s famous painting: casting seeds from my bag with the brilliant sun bathing me in its yellow light. Actually, this little corner gets no light from the late-day sun, and I had paper packets of god-knows-what — weird seeds of alien shapes, some with spikes like punk rockers, and some smooth. Except for the poppy packets. Do you know that the poppy seeds you plant are nothing like the ones you bake into a cake? I was surprised to open the packet to see — or rather squint at — the minute black spots inside. They’re so small they almost get lost in the whorl of one’s fingerprint. Scattering them is a challenge.
Van Gogh is my favourite painter. I’ve always had a fantasy of becoming a painter in his style. With thick rich oil paints in yellows, reds and midnight blues, I would spill the colours that live in my mind onto a canvas. Maybe I could even paint the wildflowers that would grow in my garden, or vases of sunflowers picked from along my fence. All I had to do was wait.
And we waited. It took weeks for anything to show up. Once green shoots did begin to grow, it was impossible to tell whether they were weeds or flowers (well, dill and dandelions are unmistakable), and we let it turn into a ragged plot lest we pull a potential blossom. I felt a bit ridiculous watering something that homely, but nobody could see me in the back yard anyway. Eventually we were able to pull the obvious weeds, but you would be amazed at the weeds that masquerade as flowers.
Now it’s fall and my dream of a lush undulation of colour has faded with the reality of what is. But something else has happened. Late in the season the dianthus imparts its sweet fragrance over the whole yard, and there are random colours — tiny pink star-like flowers, white baby’s breath and other white blossoms the size of pencil erasers, red-and-black-eyed yellow flowers that remind me of daisies, purple pansies that scowl, delicate things with cherry-coloured petals and miniature blue bell-like flowers with tons of buds at the end of tall, thin spaghetti-like stalks. And some poppies! Red, white, orange, and a pale purplish one with feathered edges, like a fancy dress. They last only a few days before their long, skinny stems sink to the ground, but oh, I take such delight in each one.
The sunflowers did not fare well. Of many seeds planted, only about 10 stalks grew, but they are working so hard to produce that I cannot help but stand in awe of their efforts — and help them to stand, because they keep bending over.
This little garden is not the grand Eden of my imagination. It would not inspire a painting and is not worthy of a post on social media, where cruel judgments are handed down by insecure, obtuse people. But looking at it brings to mind the words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel: “Just to be is a blessing. Just to live is holy.”
My garden has survived to give what it could manage, and in so doing has provided humble blessings I did not imagine. One should never discount the possibility of being surprised by holiness.