Every Mother’s Day I put something in the ground. Not just because it’s the first safe day for gardeners (no danger of frost), but because I want to remember my mother, who passed away in 2001, and who most of my blog posts have been about.
But Momma ran marathons, she had no time for gardening. In fact, I don’t think I EVER saw her with dirt under her nails. They remained perfectly manicured and lacquered, usually with Revlon’s “Toast of New York”. So today I should’ve gone for a run if my intention was to honor Momma. Instead I repotted my geraniums. Not technically putting something in the ground, but repotting is putting a plant in dirt. Giving it renewed life.
The tradition actually started several years ago when I wanted a wildflower garden in my front yard. My sister happened to come over after our Mother’s Day visit with Momma at her caretaker’s home. When Sis learned I was planting that day, she asked if she could help. So instead of dwelling on Momma’s poor health, we dug up the front yard and planted a wildflower garden. It felt healthy to be growing something on Mother’s Day. Instead of being depressed that our mother would never be the same, we were creating life. That wildflower garden came up tall and strong. But just before the whole area burst into bloom, my downstairs neighbors mowed it down, thinking they were weeds. Ever since then, I’ve planted something, or done some sort of major gardening project on Mother’s Day.
I actually love to repot plants. And I usually wait to do it sometime in the spring. I like the feeling that they will be reborn, just as everything else is, in the spring. Giving them a new lease on life. Discarding the used up soil – dry, powdery with all its nutrients sucked out, for the moist new potting soil, chock full of plant food, and smelling of mold and earth and life. I gently coax the plant out of its root-bound prison where it has spent all winter trapped in a too small terracotta space, gently placing the root ball into a pot with much more room. Burying the roots in a shower of moist earth. Patting it down. Watering. Allowing the plant to get used to its new home. Sometimes I think I can hear the plant breathing a sigh of relief as it gently lays itself onto its new food-filled bed. From winter boots to summer sandals. At last, their rooty toes have room to wiggle around and breathe.
I’m taking care of my geraniums on this day – leggy things I bought years and years ago. They lay dormant and bloomless all winter, but explode into ballooney balls of color the minute they’re placed on the deck out back. Explosions of red, pink, and white like flowery fireworks. And like I said, my momma never grew anything but her two girls. And our hair. And her hair.* But my grandmother Muddy overwintered her geraniums every year. I remember being shocked to learn this last year at her funeral. Then shock drifted away and I was left feeling comforted. Why, of course she overwintered her geraniums – mothering them through chilly sunless days, watering the bloomless green leaves – not panicking when most of the leaves dried out and fell off and you were left with just stems. Of course she did. It’s probably why I do now.
When I was a teacher I overwintered my flowers in the classroom, and my students used to ask why I didn’t just throw them out. “They’re dead!” they’d exclaim. But no, I mothered them. Like Muddy did. Like my Nana mothered her iris and roses. And like Momma mothered us, nuturing, caring, cajoling. Scolding sometimes. Scolding a LOT actually. Standing by and hoping, praying when our flowers weren’t as prolific or as abundant. Knowing that sometime soon, they’d come back. I put plants in the ground every Mother’s Day because I want to remember Momma, and Muddy, and Nana. All the wonderful women who nurtured us, along with their flowers, when we needed it the most.
*in fact, we grew so much hair that when we all went for a haircut, they alerted the media. For real. But that’s another story for another time…