Where the Troubles Lie

Christa Pandey

Moving is rarely fun. My husband tried to convince me that the new job seven hundred miles away would add an important paragraph to his resume. Uprooted after twenty years, I felt like a tree downed by lightning. The only consolation was the garden that came with the house we found. Planted when the house was young, it looked like an old park thirty years later. Tall pines and stately magnolias were interspersed with azaleas that exploded in lavender and red in the spring. The greatest attraction was a formal garden, complete with brick walks and boxwood enclosures. I envisioned it as a full-fledged herb garden, a dream I had nurtured since cultivating herbs a few years earlier. I gladly overlooked the neglect the garden had suffered for several years. Blind as my husband was to his situation, I too thought I could handle the work this garden would involve. But I had no idea that it would become my obsession and eventually the keeper of my sanity.

Very quickly after moving, my husband discovered that the coveted new job was a sinkhole of frustration. Daily he brought home stories of ineptness, purposeful spite, or negligence and general resistance to any new idea. To top it off, his prostate cancer, treated five years earlier, raised ugly prospects of renewed treatment and untimely retirement. Our old dog was dying and the house needed some immediate renovations. Though I had met a few people, there was no friend to share my troubles with. Instead, I dug them into the garden.

Pruning overgrown azalea bushes and hollies snipped away some of my anger, and when they showed renewed vigor the next year I took it as a sign of better things to come. Tackling the boxwood squares, though, proved to be as overwhelming as our whole situation. After bringing the chest-high hedges down to knee height they looked puny and emaciated, just like my chopped line of old friends. Long established and tenacious weeds including ivy and miles of wild wisteria vines were like all the habits my husband met in his dealings with co-workers. But there was no magic to it. They had to come out one by one, dug out as deep as possible and smothered with topsoil and humus. Both he and I succeeded only partwise, though my job proved the easier one. I had no qualms about digging out weeds, whereas he had to deal with weedy people without the benefit of a spade and brush-b-gone.

With each shovel of dirt I dug deeper into the local soil and buried some of my anger and second-hand frustration. I planted bulbs and ferns as signs of hope. I puzzled over the flagstones for two sitting areas. Adding soil under the shallow stones while digging the thicker ones deeper in, filling gaps but leaving breathing space, seemed like our first year here. Where my husband's visions for his job faltered, I pursued mine with intense resolve. The more he spoke of jumping ship, the more I dug in. One by one I went after my projects without doing much else. A corner of lawn became a rose bed, neglected background plantings were redefined with borders, and ruthless pruning rejuvenated many corners of this old garden.

At last, even the herb garden took shape. The boxwood enclosures filled out as I knew they would. Through the gardening I found some new friends as I hoped I could. The herb garden is in full operation this year and has become a basis for new friendships and more healing.

Just as the garden looks better, so does our personal situation. The dog lies buried under a dogwood tree, and the cancer has once again been bombarded with radiation. Retirement could be postponed, though my husband stepped down from the administrative duties that looked so intriguing only three years ago. He now has time to snip home-grown roses for the house and enjoy the weekend paper on the new glider under the pines. My obsessive gardening has given way to a more relaxed pace, as the wound in my soul is covered with scabs of flowers, herbs, and a general sense of gardening accomplishment.

© Christa Pandey

Christa Pandey is a freelance writer in Tuscaloosa, Al, where she works on children's books when she is not tending the garden.

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