THE SUMMER OF MY CONTENT
When our family moved from Nassau County, Long Island, out to eastern Suffolk in the early 90’s, we were leaving a time of great difficulty for me. Following the birth of our second child, I descended into a nightmarish postpartum depression that was emotionally and physically depleting.
After an adolescence fraught with anxiety, loneliness, and panic attacks, this was the worst thing to hit me yet. Making matters worse, the depression had not been diagnosed properly, and lack of the right treatment meant I suffered far longer than I should have. It was during this time that we bought our new house, in which I hoped to have a new beginning–in more ways than one.
The older couple that had owned the home before, had, over time, transformed much of the single acre plot into a myriad of small patches of gardens. Their intentions were good, but the result was prickly rose bushes where room was needed to walk, random shrubs about the yard, and individual plantings of ground covers juxtaposed against each other in odd arrangements.
We had two small children when we moved in–an infant and a toddler–and two more were to come before we would outgrow that home and leave it, nearly nine years later. But back then, with my children nearby, I devoted my energies at first to transplanting and concentrating the existing flowers, shrubs and ground covers into a couple of well-defined plots. The multiple parcels that had been carefully weeded and cleared by my predecessors were just too much for me to keep up, and we wanted some large, open areas.
Over time, even the fewer areas that I had preserved became more than enough for me to maintain. I sometimes lamented to my family that the yard work was too demanding, and I chastised myself for weeds that had not been pulled, plants that needed pruning, or edging that was getting fuzzy with growth.
In addition, well-meaning neighbors who were nature enthusiasts (to the point of never mowing, never pulling a weed, and, in short, having the worst looking plot of ground imaginable), shook their heads if I removed a bush or shrub, even to transplant it. And, no matter how hard I tried, my efforts never came close to producing the profusion of blooms or vegetables of their garden. I wasn’t competing, but I had the feeling they were! I just wanted the simple pleasures of flowers–their beauty, their scents, their colorful presence.
Yearning for better results, I settled upon the front garden as the one area I would maintain meticulously. With the children, I started our own seedlings in long, green trays, and it was like having pets in the house. We placed the trays above the refrigerator for warmth, watched them lovingly until the sprouts appeared, and then removed the plastic with a sense of undeniable satisfaction–the wonder of creation at work, right before our eyes!
When the seedlings were ready, and the danger of frost past, the children joined me in transplanting them to our front, prize, garden bed.
I am not, and was not then, a green thumb. Visitors sometimes admired our flowers, but whenever I drove around the neighborhood, I marveled at the profusion of blooms other people seemed to achieve so easily. My flowers were pretty, but there never seemed to be enough of them for the effect I wanted, no matter how much I planted.
When I became pregnant with my third child, I felt a great deal of trepidation before the birth, fearing the onset of another depression. Many people prayed for me. Two special friends even agreed to pray for me every single day throughout the pregnancy. Of course, I also prayed long and hard myself–and Matthew, born at 9 lbs., was a glowing testimony to all that prayer.
He was what we called a “dream baby,” sleeping through the night, seldom crying, and always easily contented. He happily sat in his baby seat while I planted yet another year’s trays of seedlings into the chunky, brown earth in my garden. I had purchased an organic fertilizer and had prepared the soil with it before planting–but I wasn’t expecting anything more than the usual mediocre results of my efforts.
At my doctor’s instruction before Matt was born, I agreed to forgo breastfeeding in favor of uninterrupted sleep, in order to prevent another postpartum episode. Mercifully, my hormones did not rise up and engulf me in a wild, frightful darkness of anxiety and fear. But I missed nursing; there was always a special closeness that I relished while nursing a baby.
Meantime, my seedlings were growing at a delightful pace. We marveled at how they would change noticeably, overnight. By summer, I had a thriving, plush, flower bed, the bright yellows and oranges of marigolds lightening the appearance of the yard–and my days. The truly amazing thing, though, were the begonias. Their little clusters of blooms grew, and grew, and grew. No one could believe that these flowers were ordinary. When they just about reached my waist, they finally ceased expanding. Their blooms made a pillow-top canopy of pink, white and red, hiding the tall, leggy, unsightly stems underneath. To my surprise, none of our guests recognized what they were, despite the fact that the flowers were exactly the same, only higher.
A day of real triumph came when our neighbor, the undisputed green thumb, organic gardener and nature expert extraordinaire, came and admired my flowers. “What are these?” he asked, and my eyes lit up like a sparkler on the fourth of July.
“You can’t tell?” I asked, relishing the fact that even HE was stumped. He looked again, and shook his head. “They’re begonias!” I was smiling from ear to ear. “Really?!” he said. “I didn’t know they could grow so big.”
The amazing thing is, they don’t. Not usually–and they never have, for me, again. But they were there, then, blooming determinedly, like my life. Pushing up their faces, covering over the leggy stems. Leaving the dark earth behind for the sun.
Somehow, the whole of that summer soothed my rough-edged past. I knew that the hard days, at least for now, were over. The Lord was granting me a time of rest and refreshment. And I drank it in like a dried up plot of soil, ready to bloom.
Gardener/writer Linore Rose Burkard has been gardening most of her adult life. Her favorite thing about gardening is producing fresh, organic food right in her own backyard. When she’s not gardening she’s writing either sweet historical romance, or, as L.R. Burkard, Christian YA/Suspense. You can learn more about her at http://www.LinoreBurkard.com