Giving thanks for renewed life in a neglected garden

I don’t know about you, but I didn’t spend much time outdoors this past summer. It seems that either it was raining — movie rains, coming down in voluptuous sheets, obscuring windows and flooding driveways; or, it was so hot that I was reluctant to leave my air-conditioned living room. To be honest, the outdoors has never held a great attraction for me. Hiking and biking are not my thing. Wining and dining is more like it.  

Still, I do cherish the little unorganized patches of flower and bush that I planted outside my house over 20 years ago. By now I’ve gotten quite attached to them. So, when the skies dried out and things cooled off a bit, I  finally ventured out to see what the weather and the creatures had left of my garden. I was more than a little trepidacious. I knew the deer thought  the nice lady in the house had planted the hosta and day lilies for them and then moved away.    

It wasn’t so bad, actually. With the help of a kind helper, most of the weeds had been held at bay. Thistles were popping up here and there, but I don’t mind that too much; the finches like them. The voles that had attacked my anemones had been persuaded to look elsewhere — helped along by some bitter and probably lethal concoction we’d put out to make them feel unwelcome.

Miraculously,the wild cherry tree that I had hacked back to half its size had survived my amateur pruning. Gangly new branches were sprouting hither and thither, not old enough to bloom yet, but there’s always next year. The Rose of Sharon, a cultivated plant and so perhaps more affronted by my wild hatchet wielding, wasn’t so resilient. Half of it stayed stubbornly bare, but the other half did burst forth with the big, lavender and white blossoms that brighten late summers around here.  

Best of all, Maggie, my magnolia tree, was OK, surviving despite the streams of rainwater that had flooded her base almost every day during the summer.  I’ve written about this tree before in this space. I planted it about 10 years ago, after two surgeries for lung cancer. Yes, lung cancer, that terrible assault that’s more deadly than almost any other cancer. I had it in two spots, one on each lung. And I’d just gotten married. It was pretty scary.

At some point back then, after all the surgeries were over and I could get around, I went to a nursery and found the young magnolia tree I’ve sort of named Maggie. It’s planted outside our kitchen window where I can see it all the time. I’m superstitious about her. I never go after her with my hatchet, and my husband and I spend hours every fall, putting in high stakes, then climbing up and wrapping them in fencing to keep the winter marauders away. 

Somehow, I think her survival is linked to mine. I know it’s not true. Still, it’s comforting to me to see her live and grow. To see her put out those tight, velvety blossom embryos in winter and then see them burst into saucers of pale pink flowers in spring. As long as she’s OK, I believe, I’m OK. And she was just fine. 

So, as I walked around my neglected — and yet still healthy — garden that day, I began to think about how lucky I am. Lucky and thankful. Thankful that I live in this beautiful place, which thrives and stays beautiful, even without my ministrations. Thankful that I have lifelong friends who still remember my birthday. Thankful, and lucky, that I have a husband who will risk life and limb to protect a tree I love. And thankful that tree is still alive — like me.

Careful Reader will note that this little essay began with a complaint about the weather, and ends with a litany of thanks. Maybe it’s the season, or maybe it’s a gift from whatever force keeps my garden, and me, chugging along. Whichever, it brings with it a wish for a Happy Thanksgiving to all. I wish you a fat turkey with oceans of gravy, friends and loved ones to share it with, bursts of flowers in the spring, and good health all the year round.  


Marjorie Palmer is a part-time resident of Taconic, where she is a part-time writer.