Ephemeral | adjective; lasting a very short time; short-lived; transitory; fleeting; the ephemeral joys of childhood.
It is my first spring with Design Wild, and the first time I have so intimately witnessed the transformation of plants through the thawing of winter. And in some ways, it mirrors our own transformation, the human one; when the longer days bring warm weather; a boundless energy propels us to connect, to linger outside in the lengthening hours, to re-inhabit our public spaces.
At Design Wild, we wake our residential gardens one by one; immersed in the warming soil, budding shrubs, the petals of the early bloomers that mimic the bright flowers drawn by the five year olds that I teach. And there is no elation like the day the first tree pops – the magnolia opens fairy petals, the forsythia bush catches its yellow flame and flirts with the tightly studded magenta redbud. I pause each morning, dazzled by the weeping cherry outside my front door as she snaps off her blooms one by one at first, and then all at once in a gaudy symphony. Each showy flower, from the daffodils to the delicate dogwoods - illuminate the persistent grey monochrome canvas that held on for so many long, unbearable days. I grant myself permission to fawn over these flowers like everyone else.
But it is in the long meticulous hours of cleaning up a garden in which I feel most connected with this season; it is here that spring speaks in a grounded hum; darker, more honest. Spring has no illusions about her own ephemerality. Her power is not in the fleeting blooms that we frantically try to prolong. It emanates instead from the gentle stench of decomposing magnolia petals that I sweep from a stone patio, their colors muddied by the recent rain.
Spring is rooted in the troll knuckle of a baby fiddlehead - dark and furled, tightly wound. And before the fiddlehead uncurls her prehistoric arms, we cut last year’s shriveling fronds from around her center to usher along new growth – fine, I think, we’ll leave you to shine in your knobby, mucky glory, mocking our obsession with such transient beauty.
Spring is studded by the wild grasses and liriope we trim into adolescent haircuts, spikey and awkward. Those unwieldy strands like teenage boys; we trust they will emerge eventually, but it’s hard to imagine that uneven tuft of chaos growing into anything with grace.
Spring is in the rat-like claws of the emerging peonies. They march in maroon armies across front walkways and gardens. Spindly and unrecognizable as the blooms they’ll become in a few weeks.
And it’s in the pokey branches of the Vitex Chaste Tree, the slow starter, bare-branched even when everything else has stepped into life. We know we must wait, pruning away the yellowing, the broken, the crossed twigs, trusting that our tree will join the crowd when ready.
Gardening in early spring is raw and intimate, demanding patience and discernment. But here in the crook of spring’s elbow is where I feel I’ve truly communed with these plants, a committed relationship where I persist through the weird, the stubborn, the bare, the bristly.
Eventually, the intoxicating flowers come and go, and then we all settle into the consistent lush greens of the chorus.
It’s not unlike how we love other humans, our children, our partners, our friends, our family. We know that such love is never like the easy stories we consume in romantic movies. Instead, we love like the gardener cares for the rose bush, a love that requires them at times to cut it back to an unsightly and thorny base, trusting the process that allows a living thing to grow healthy and strong from there.
Love takes investing in the parts of the other’s life that go unnoticed by the outside eye, feeding the worms in the soil, stewarding growth. And it’s a love that recognizes a plant by the naturally selected shape of their leaves, the patterns of their stems, the hue of their veins, when no flowers are present to distract.
It strikes me that it’s also how warriors persist in social movements. The outrages, the galvanizing media flashes, the inexplicable acts of injustice bloom in angry spring. But it’s the activists who persist before and after these moments, in the structural mess, the tedious fights, the long hours of organizing, of failures and losses, and of subtle successes, they are the true garden keepers.
So under this bursting redbud where I sit today to write this, I’ll let myself breathe in her scent and delight in the pink petal rain, but it’s the sea of weedy goldenrod I look forward to tending tomorrow.