Sunday, November 23, 2008

Taking Root

Grandmama was a gardener. The kind that wandered around in the woods digging up anything that looked interesting and taking it home to root. The kind that sent people away clutching damp paper towels wrapped around something spindly with the promise that it would most definitely absolutely grow. The kind that thought the house could take care of itself and that the best place to be, regardless of how hot or cold, was outside.

Her yard was a quilt of flower beds and brick-edged paths. Outside the back door was a patch of succulents that seemed to multiply like science fiction clones and flanking the front door were two cedar trees she nursed from saplings so that by the time I was a teenager they were tall enough to decorate with fat colored Christmas lights.

Fig trees and hydrangeas. Mimosa trees and Cherokee roses. Petunias and verbena. Wisteria and honeysuckle. Grandmama's green thumb touched them all.

I'm really not much of a gardener. I tend to forget to water things that need watering and to prune things that need pruning. The pollen of practically everything that grows within two miles of Sandhill makes my eyes red, my nose run and my head ache. So instead of getting my hands down into the dirt, etching my cuticles with the deep chocolate of potting soil, I have generally depended upon the pity of my parents or the pecuniary interest of professionals.

Until recently. Until this spring when, at the behest of a plant-loving friend, I planted some rosemary and lavender and, over the next few months, watched the seeds break the soil in thin green sprigs and then straighten themselves into tall slender stalks. One afternoon I rubbed a few leaves between my fingers – rosemary in one hand, lavender in the other – and carried the two scents with me for the rest of the day.

Then a couple of weeks ago, I found myself with one foot in a ditch, the other braced against the bank on the other side, trying to dig up an American beauty berry bush. I was there because my friend Debra had told me, along with our friend Emily, that the large beauty berry bush in her backyard had been rooted from a tiny one she had found in the woods. Being the kind of women to whom such a remark becomes an immediate challenge, Emily and I soon found ourselves armed with two shovels and more enthusiasm than sense as we drove slowly down the dirt road leading to Sandhill, scouting the ditches for the bright flare of color that would pinpoint our targets, spindly little roadside trees whose neon magenta berries appear along with the first cool snap and just about the time the chartreuse leaves begin dropping.

There was one near a tree stump! Another one at the foot of a scrub oak!

But these were not baby bushes like the ones Debra had found; these were two and three feet high and just as wide and one quick jab of the shovel into the sandy dirt around the first demonstrated that beauty berry bushes are blessed with very well-developed root systems. The digging radius got wider and wider, deeper and deeper. Just when I was about to suggest that we abort the mission, one more massive tug dislodged the bush from the dirt and sent me stumbling backwards, trying not to end up on my backside at the bottom of the bank. An equally emphatic pull by Emily and we stood in the middle of the road, holding up our bushes like weekend fishermen showing off the big catch.

Twenty minutes later I'd sent Emily back in the direction of Gwinnett County and stuck my beauty berry in a bucket of water to await planting. And, suddenly, it seemed as though Grandmama was there, standing under the carport with me, staring at bush's hairy roots waving in the water, asking me where I thought I'd plant it, telling me where she thought it might do well.

I doubt that a rose bed or cutting garden ever finds a place at Sandhill. Or that trellises and pergolas draped with Confederate jasmine or honeysuckle ever guard the driveway. But I'm encouraged that the sycamore tree in the backyard seems to have established itself and the gardenia under the kitchen window is still alive. And as soon as I get a few minutes, that beauty berry bush is going into the ground.

Copyright 2008

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