I discover the power of flowers

Or years, I listened to my friends talk about their love of gardening in tones that came close to rapture.

"Did you see the hydrangeas Kate put in?" my friend Connie would ask me. "She added a special fertilizer to the soil so they'd be more blue-purple than rose-pink on the edges." Um. No. I missed that, I'd mumble in reply.

The truth was, I could not have cared less about Kate's hydrangeas, or Carla's rose trellis, or Maria's high-risk forcing of paperwhite narcissus bulbs. I knew that my friends were capable of devouring a seed catalog as if it were a Danielle Steel page-turner. I was aware that they kept 30-pound oversize books with catchy titles such as "The English Garden," and "Flowers" on their coffee tables. And that they actually read them.

But gardening just wasn't for me. It was too dirty, for one thing. Too solitary, for another. Often too hot. And the gratification was delayed, sometimes for months.

As leisure-time activities went, I was a quick-fix kind of girl: a brisk walk around the neighborhood, a cup of decaf cappuccino with a friend, and I was on my way.

But something started to change me. It began when we decided to build a new patio in our backyard. The flagstone space turned out beautifully but cried out for landscaping. I reluctantly jotted "Stop by Tony's Nursery" on my to-do list. In the meantime, I thought it wouldn't hurt to glance at some of the gardening magazines for ideas. Two hours later, I was still poring over pieces with names like "How to Turn Your Backyard Into a Garden of Eden," and "Picture-Perfect Borders: What Every Patio Needs."

By the time I got to Tony's, I was even feeling a little excited. I collapsed the back seat of my station wagon and filled it with silver lace vines, a few rose bushes, a couple of spirea, dusty millers, a few flats of perennials, a window box, and enough salmon-pink geraniums to fill it. Plus peat moss, mulch, fertilizer, and ergonomically-correct gardening tools.

Over the next few weeks, I had a revelation. Gardening is one of those rare hobbies that I was able to match to my mood. If I was feeling annoyed and crabby for no particular reason, I could yank weeds, whack hedges, or deadhead some blossoms, lopping them off with relish. If I was on overload and needed to clear my head, I could mindlessly place bulb after bulb in little holes in the ground, each 8 to 10 inches apart and 3 inches deep.

Had I lost that loving feeling? I could get it back by carefully repotting plants, pruning, watering, feeding, and nurturing my new additions. And unlike so many other endeavors in the life of a hard-working mother of three, I had something tangible to show for my work at the end of an hour, or even a half-hour.

Slowly, I was changed. It wasn't immediate. It's been three years of seeds that didn't sprout, sun that didn't shine, vines that refused to climb. But I learned, season by season. Like any other gardener, of course, I'm still learning. It appears to be a lifelong process.

I HAVE to say, I still don't have coffee-table books about gardening on my coffee table. And I would rather read the latest Patricia Cornwell than a seed catalog. But as the years have gone by, an oddly satisfying transformation has occurred.

The very things that irritated me about gardening now attract me. It's dirty: a welcome change from my clean and organized office environment. It's solitary: Gardening looks like work to my children, and they tend to keep their distance, giving me room to breathe and think. Often, it's hot: The sun feels good on my back and neck and gives me a reasonable excuse to buy a really cute, overpriced gardening hat.

And the gratification is delayed, sometimes for months. But when it comes, in the form of lush vines climbing my trellises, roses flowering, ivy beds glowing a waxy dark-green, I get a rush I never got from a brisk walk around the neighborhood and a decaf cappuccino.

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