I’ve been meaning to write this post for awhile now (since the summer, actually), but have been so busy and stressed that I haven’t found the time. The last few months have been hard, both personally and creatively, and sometimes the motivation to keep at it seems as fleeting as smoke. Appropriately, then, when I most needed some inspiration, I remembered what I had wanted to write about so many months ago–and why.
So, here goes. Bear with me.
My mother is a gardener. Not the kind of gardener you’re probably picturing (a retired lady with a sun hat and a bed of Dahlias), but a hard-core working machine who labors rain or rain (she lives near Seattle), year-round to coax beauty and wonder out of 16 rambly acres on a Pacific Northwest island. For the last 15 years, she’s planned, experimented, planted, replanted, designed, redesigned, weeded, ripped out, and redone an ever-growing landscape of incredible beauty.
When I last visited (in August), I remember watching her at work and realizing that what she had accomplished with her garden was not so different from what I was trying to do with my writing.
Her garden is not just a series of pretty arrangements of plants, trees, and bushes. It has a story running through it, a logic and a rhythm. English cottage plantings are woven into a woodland by a shushing stream. Sinuous hedges of boxwood lure you towards a pond full of lily pads and the bridge across the water deposits you at the edge of a path. Follow it and you might find a secluded glade in yellows and blues or an arching pergola hung with roses. Each “room” in the garden evokes a different mood, has different pacing, and features unique characters.
The garden is my mother’s great work in progress, constantly in a state of unfolding. As she prunes, weeds, adds, and subtracts, the story evolves. And just when you think you have it figured out, you arrive at the edge of an enigmatic, eathen maze, dotted with colorful wooden pillars and presided over by a looming cairn of stones. Plot twist!
Just as my efforts to become a better writer and tell more interesting stories might begin with a wisp of an idea or a glimpse of a character, her garden began with an old hot tub she decided to covert into a bubbling pond. It looked naked sitting there all by itself, surrounded by empty lawn, so she built a structured garden around around it, bit by bit, year by year.
She visited other gardens, read about gardening, learned what would grow in her zone and what would not. There was trial and error, good years and bad, and lots and lots of hard, cold labor. All those things have transformed that first kernel of an idea into a world class garden that gives my mother (and the many people who visit annually) incredible pleasure.
So, on days when I feel despair of ever improving, of ever finishing this chapter, or that story, or of ever selling my work, I think about my mom’s garden.
Work hard, love what you do, focus on the task in front of you and — one day — you just might find you’ve created a true work of art.
Thanks for the inspiration, mom.