Confessions of a midnight gardener

When I was young, my mother would spend the entire winter planning her vegetable garden. Never mind that we lived in an inhospitable climate for outdoor summer labor; she was determined that she could take the heat and, furthermore, that she would be the only one simmering in the sun.

When the winter abated and spring raced toward us, she would coax my father into "preparing the garden." The week of toil and trowel soon ended, and my mother would stride to the garden every morning and evening to water copiously and check on the progress of her prize flora.

Of course, there was no progress – at least none that we could see above the soil line. And so, predictably, disappointment soon gave way to detached apathy, and the maternal interest in plant care would end abruptly. The chore would fall on my father's shoulders and mine. Another summer of sweltering heat and fickle vegetables had begun.

As I grew older, we father-daughter farmers rebelled, and the garden ceased to exist. We thought the local produce markets looked mighty good to us, and so our interest in cultivation ended at the farm-stand cash register. I'd had enough gardening, I thought, for a lifetime.

But the garden drought of my 20s gave way eventually. I suppose it was bound to happen when I moved from a garden-free apartment to a small house with long- neglected gardens.

At first I tried to avert my eyes every time I walked up the long path to my front door. But it was impossible to keep that up for very long. Waist-high weeds, overgrown shrubbery, and buried perennials cried out for attention.

It was a cry I soon heeded. Then I discovered the enormous satisfaction of garden renovation, the pure regeneration that I felt after an hour of weed-pulling. I began to seek out advice from gardeners I knew, and proved a quick study. Gardening, I learned, is a lot like chipping away at the sculpture within a block of marble: You just have to imagine it in your mind and pursue it with your hands.

I became a fanatic, gardening while my babies napped, even planting after dark. My new neighbors looked on my hobby with some amusement, ambling over to alternately praise and tease.

"So what has the Midnight Gardener done this week?!" needled my next-door neighbor. But the good-natured ribbing served only to spur me on.

A move some years later was a cause for celebration and sadness. I would be gaining ground – literally – for new gardens, but moving away from my established floral creations.

Then I had a brainstorm: Divide the perennials, which needed it anyway, and move some of them with me. I now have irises, peonies, bluebells, and lilies from my very first garden, ethereal beauties that remind me of the potent pull of my favorite hobby.

Best of all, I still have my hands in my old garden: Our old home's new residents have interest but little time and no experience. And so a few times a year, at their request, I traipse over to my old garden to prune the lilac I tamed, the hydrangea I coaxed back from the brink of death, and the "Mountain fire" I had trimmed into a pleasing shape.

I call it, jokingly, my "plant visitation." But it is a reminder, to me, of the enduring legacy of plants and the humans who enjoy their unwavering beauty.

And by the way, last summer I planted a garden of hardy perennials for someone special: my mom.

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