A garden is like a child; once the seed is planted, we need to nurture her. We water and feed her, watch her grow, and hope she will be healthy and beautiful. Maybe even self-sufficient… The analogy stops here though. The child becomes an adult and moves on; our garden remains dependent. It just sits there. Rarely self-sufficient — after all it continues to “evolve” through stages of growth and decay, it puts demands on us. Demands we may not have bargained for initially.
In putting the garden to bed come winter, we can appreciate the welcome respite from daily chores. Later though we may discover a glimpse into the empty nest syndrome. However, the garden will faithfully return come spring. Children, once adults, are another story. We are suddenly faced with a long-term empty nest — unless they move in with us…
But what about navigating between gardens in different places? As some of us know, this can make life a tad complicated. Of course, dwelling in a city apartment with a potted orchid on a window sill or a Jade plant near a piano is another story. Or, say, enjoying a seaside condo where outdoor maintenance is not your problem. Still, returning to our country home back north come May means facing not only a house that may contain leaks from snow dams, or a garden overrun by voles, not to mention, deer.
Where it gets interesting, even downright emotional, is the personal, long-term involvement with two gardens. Not just about practical toils and tasks, it’s about sentiments and attachments. A certain nagging sense of commitment arises. Mixed feelings? Divided loyalties?
As a recent snowbird that, when the leaves fall and the days grow short, enjoys the good fortune to head to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, I have become a candidate for this dilemma.
This arises in particular upon returning to my old stand-by in the Berkshires. There is a certain disconnect at play. Why can’t I identify my plants or even remember what I planted last year? “Give yourself a break”, I quip back; “after all this also happens when the garden is dormant for months.” There’s more though. I grow frustrated not to have a clue where I left those carefully drawn vegetable garden plans or why I bought bags of bone meal in the first place… Of course, with geographical distance issues of disorientation always arise. As my friend, Laura Chester once shared with me about living both in Arizona and Massachusetts: “It takes me two weeks to get adjusted.” For me, navigating between two gardens resembles handling a bulky carry-on rather than simply checking a bag.
Because the Mexico experience is far newer, there’s an ongoing thrill to coming back not only to a less familiar culture but an almost surreal high desert landscape. Getting off the small plane and stepping onto the tarmac — quite literally, I immediately feel in my bones an unusual sense of place and belonging.
Unlike sheer travel, where we relish in the freshness of new sights, sounds, smells and tastes, comes the more complex dimension offered by another long-term dwelling. And while, in exploring a gamut of horizons, exotic things jump out at you, there’s that sense of deja vu when you move back in. With distance comes re-awakening. A novel mind-set kicks in.
There’s a price though. It’s the roller coaster ride of exits and entrances. As Laura, in her wonderful reflective memoir, “Riding Barranca”, shares: “Here on Sonoita Creek, I am beginning to feel the heart-tug of departure, soon to leave my beloved Southwest.”
With the heart-tug of my Berkshire departure now behind me, here in San Miguel I appreciate once again how the demands of a town house garden are so conveniently scaled back. ¡Gracias a Dios! With lots of potted cacti and other succulents as well as a bougainvilla or two, it doesn’t nag or complain much.
Yes, a tree sadly died. However, I didn’t plant it. Planting your own tree entails emotional roots. My connection with a land I “tilled” runs deeper. Having plunged my hands into the soil for years holds a visceral quality — one that doesn’t fade away so easily.
Saying permanently good-bye is far more dramatic. As Paula Panich once wrote for this magazine when she left the east coast for the west: “To leave a garden one has built oneself is to leave a husk of that self — gardens are, after all, defined by death and resurrection, chemistry and alchemy, physical and intellectual labor. All that fussing and thinking and crawling about on hands and knees. To leave a garden is to have a heart aflame.”
While juggling two places may present challenges, I also remind myself of the gratifications inherent to both. By wrapping my mind around settling in two nests and two communities, I can’t help but remain younger, more alert and aware. Perhaps even a little wiser too.