Several months ago, while volunteering planting shade trees at a local park, I was asked by a fellow volunteer and California Native Plant Society member if I would be interested in putting my CA natives garden on the CNPS 2010 Spring Plant Tour. I hesitated at first because I couldn’t understand why the society would want my newly planted garden to be part of the tour. But, after his persuasive explanation, I agreed.
I had certain expectations of how this thing would play out over the next months and became concerned about the disasters that might occur: plants not flowering (we were having an oddly cold spring), oleanders engulfing my garden, pergola not being built on time, a guest going for a “swim” in the pool on tour day. I began to get nervous so I made a plan to ensure these problems would be avoided. First, I made a commitment to spend every spare moment speaking to the plants, encouraging them to bloom precisely during the weekend of the tour. I convinced myself that I would tidy the garden continuously so I wouldn’t fall behind and I promised to wait patiently for the pergola kit to be delivered. As for the swimmers, I would deal with them later.
After spending hours clipping, plucking, and shoveling, I wondered how I would pull this thing off. This project had to be priority, after all I wanted to share with others the joys of “putting my lawn out of its misery.” I wanted them to know how liberating it was to plant native oaks, salvias, and a variety of native grasses in place of a mono-crop of lawn grass. I couldn’t wait to talk to garden “tourists” about the beauty of a nature garden and how attracting butterflies, bees, and a variety of birds to the garden enhanced my life. But what about home teaching my son and finishing the term paper that I had already put off for far too long? Difficult as it was to admit, I had to accept the fact that I needed to ask for help.
Recruiting my husband was not a job for the faint of heart. Not being a gardener by nature, he wasn’t exactly thrilled with the idea of spending the kind of time in the garden that would be required to finish by tour time. Feeling his reluctance, I quickly became a master at making puppy-dog eyes, micro brew bottle opening, and sweet talking. Some might think that I was manipulating the situation a bit, but I like to think that I was practicing kindness – albeit to get help that I desperately needed. I explained in an overly cheerful manner that he didn’t have to be out there every day, and that he might actually have fun working side by side with me. It was an opportunity for quality couple time, right? He agreed to help and was even getting a little excited about building the pergola. Just as long as this endeavor would not interfere too much with his bike riding (visit his blog here: beyondthemiddlering.com), he would be there for me.
Weeks flew by and miraculously, my husband and I accomplished our goals for the garden. Friday night, on the eve of the tour, I stayed up late making oak leaf shaped walnut sable cookies for our guests. Yes, the cookies had to match the trees! On Saturday morning, I was pleasantly surprised to find my husband in the kitchen making his fabulous mini cranberry scones. This was way beyond what I had expected of him and I was deeply touched by his thoughtfulness. As I stood there staring at him, my spirit grew a little closer to his. I felt good, so I walked to the garden to introspect and of course, take one more look at the garden before people began arriving.
When I came to the lower section of the garden where our veggie patch/fruit orchard is, I was blessed with another surprise. There, on the underside of the succulent green leaves of the Aristolochia californica (pipevine) that I had planted just months before, were several tiny black and orange pipevine swallowtail butterfly caterpillars, munching happily. I stood in awe. It was at this point when I became nature drunk. My head was light, my heart thumped rapidly, and a tingling sensation ran up the back of my neck, making me feel high. How could a female swallowtail find this small plant in this short amount of time? This was another of nature’s miracles that I would never understand and I was humbled by my ignorance.
Throughout the day, I showed interested guests this miracle that was unfolding in our backyard. Some listened and smiled and walked on, anxious to see the other gardens on the tour. But the children – who rock! – were especially interested. As I talked about the caterpillars, they crouched to their knees, pointing and staring intently at the cute squirming creatures. As they watched, everything going on around them seemed to fade into the background and they were solely focused on the hungry caterpillars. These children made me realize that I was longing to have this sort of wonderment, this undistracted awareness of life.
The day was a success! The oleanders behaved, the salvias bloomed in purple waves across the front yard as if on command, the pergola provided a focal point for man-discussion, and no one went for a swim in the pool (only dipped their toes). My husband and I, along with a sister-friend of mine who dedicated a good part of her day to help, had the opportunity to meet nearly 200 friendly gardening types who thanked us many times for opening our garden. I was pleased and flattered, but more than anything, I was overcome by a gratefulness toward nature. I felt incredibly blessed by the opportunity to connect with the physical world – spending the day breathing in honeysuckle filled air and feeling the warmth of the sun on my skin – all the while connecting with kindred spirits. What more could I possibly ask for?