When I was a kid, some grown up told me that red and yellow don’t go together and I shouldn’t wear the outfit I’d picked out for school. I thought about that as I was looking at my favorite rose bush, which was filled by ruffled blood-roses with bright yellow tips. Apparently, nature didn’t get the message either. It wasn’t the first time I’d been validated by a flower.
In fact, during Covid, my emotional and physical well-being was safeguarded by plants. No, I’m not talking about some alleged herbal cure for Covid. I’m talking about just being in the company of flowers.
Before Covid, I was an amateur gardener at best. But during Covid, I found that gardening was a great release for my loads of nervous tension.
Gardening also forced me outside, where the actual act of gardening kept my mind focused and away from my smart phone and the dreaded daily news cycle. The act of gardening involved usually about two hours of stretching my body in different contorted positions to trim, pull, plant and sow. It became the only part of my day where I would be in silence. I counted digging holes as my aerobic exercise. My body felt stronger, more relaxed. I slept better. I lost weight. My mild aches in my ankles went away (as they say, “motion is lotion”).
Soon, I began gardening for friends which brought me some much-appreciated money (yes, I charged friends), but the ability to visit with people — from 6 plus feet away. Which each friend added as a client, the more plants I could access, which meant that if one friend had extra succulents, I could bring some to another friend’s home and if that friend had too many calla lilies, I could take those to another friend’s garden with an excess of geraniums. And of course, I added a bit of everything to my own garden, which began to quickly “blossom” (quite literally). These were win-win transactions. If you know gardeners, you know that they hate throwing perfectly good plants into the “green bin.” Every couple of months, a friend (who did not need my gardening services) emailed me that she needed me to “rehome” her plants. I would arrive with a bottle of wine, take a spin around her property with my leaf blower and grab the garbage bag full of aeoniums, which would then be divided among my friends’ gardens.
It was reassuring to know that on a regular schedule I would be seeing these friends – even if only for a few minutes, and even if only from a distance outside. At least I would be seeing my friends in person. And five minutes in person with a friend is better than long texts, emails and FaceTime calls. We’re social creatures, and the most difficult part of sheltering in place was the feeling of being totally alone.
Not content with this informal plant swap, I began regularly searching Craigslist and Next Door for free plants. It was unbelievable the amount and variety of plants I could get for a bit of elbow grease. Okay, so I spent two hours with a pickaxe in the hot sun digging out five ancient rose bushes from a man, I learned, whose last name was “Rose” but who didn’t like them.
And people who give away plants seem to be the nicest people. Even our interactions – spaced appropriately for Covid – brightened my day. A stranger was happy to see me. I was happy to see them (and they’re plants), we thanked each other profusely. Those interactions with strangers were a great deal more pleasant than the ones I experienced waiting in line at the grocery store or while driving.
I also found gardening to be very centering. Trimming off the older, spent blossoms to make room for the young blooms taught me that even the droopy, duller roses had themselves a type of unconventional beauty. Maybe I identified with the older rose because I’m past middle age (unless I live to be 120) and I like to think that my own veined droopiness was earned by a life well-lived.
Making way for the fresh blossoms reminded me of parenting, and how I was making way for my newly adult daughters, who are brighter and fresher than I am. It also reminded me of how important my volunteer work for Hadassah is. How important it is to welcome and nurture new members and accept differing opinions in a vast and diverse membership which comprises the largest Zionist women’s organization in America.
My gardening has morphed into a small and very informal business thanks to word of mouth. I count among my new friends, several of my clients. I am making plans with some of them to someday, when Covid allows, to take field trips to local arboretums, garden shops and plant farms. I understand I’m truly fortunate to live where I live and how I live. But during the darkest days of Covid, flowers made me realize it.