Thursday, March 10, 2016

British Garden Dreams

Spring is coming up quietly here in the Midwest.  My hyacinths are weighty with full pink heads. The daffodils have buds.  Some of my perennials are sending their first scouting leaves through soil's surface.   Oh goodness, I could talk about flowers all day long, and believe me, if you were across the table from me now, I'd for sure show you all the little seedlings I've started in the window.  Then again, that has the potential to quickly spiral into the likes of an infamous vacation slideshow, so perhaps it's best you're not here.

As I plan out my garden this year, I daydream of the trip we took last summer to England and Scotland.  I never blogged about it because I'd just finished the terrible sick months of my pregnancy with Judah.  Our trip was a family affair with my parents and sister's family, and we spent two weeks exploring the Cotswolds, Lake District, Wales, and Scotland.  Great Britain has flowers everywhere.  Even the tiny front yards are full of wispy spires, and every stone wall has something trailing down its side.  Can we talk about the stone walls?  I came home wanting to start a grassroots movement to banish barbed wire and chainlink fences.  Let's go the UK way, people!  (Aaron was quick to point out that stone walls are far more expensive and difficult to maintain than our options.  Whatever.)  And the rhododendrons!  Growing as thickly along the highway's edge as if they were just a bunch of dandelions.  All of it was every bit as magical as it sounds and so, so beautiful.

This is where it gets a wee awkward, since only two paragraphs ago I bashed vacation slideshows. But, would you like to see some England pictures?  Let's talk gardening and all the ideas the Brits have given me.  Aaron is wondering how many trellises I will ask him to build, and the answer is somewhere between How Can One Ever Have Too Many Trellises and How Many Backrubs Will You Take in Exchange for Your Carpentry Skills?  

First off, flowers that I will be attempting to grow because of our trip.

This is Jupiter's Beard.  It doesn't look at all like a weed, but based on its prolific appearance in sidewalk cracks and ditches, I'm surmising it grows like a weed.  At least in England.  I found this plant at ACE Hardware a few weeks after we got back, and it is coming up already this year. Hopefully it blooms as well as its English relatives!

Roses.  Ack.  Intimidating!  But seriously, how could you not want a climbing rose after seeing this in person?  Lowe's had them for 8 bucks, so I bought one about this same color.  I need to do some research on how to secure them to walls.    

Cranesbill geranium is gorgeous, isn't it?  This is a plant I already had before our England trip, but mine does not grow nearly as big.  I don't know what it is about England's climate, but all of their flowers go gangbusters.  Look at that wall!  If there were such a thing as stone wall sweepstakes, I would enter every one.

Next, flowers I adore but have not been able to successfully grow in years past.

Campanula.  Every May, I selectively forget that this plant always dies in our sweltering August heat. I've seriously bought this three or four years running, and it never makes it.  If I see this picture in May, the amnesia will probably return, and I will buy it again.  It's so sweet.  Also, stone wall.  Gah.

Delphinium is another flower that I wish I could have in my garden.  Like campanula, it doesn't tolerate our hot summers.   

Foxglove does fare better in our zone, but as a biennial, it's a little fussy.  If it doesn't reseed, you have to replant in the fall to have blooms the next spring.  Plus, it's poisonous, and that seems risky to grow with young kids.  I think it's gorgeous, though, and maybe in ten years I'll give it another try.

One thing I loved about the English cottage gardens was their use of sticks.  There's nary a wire tomato cage in sight, but they use sticks and branches to edge their gardens and as pea and bean teepees. 

We also visited some larger manor gardens.

I think the English have such pretty gardens to serve as a distraction from the constant mist.  Or maybe they have such pretty gardens as a result of the constant mist.

I took an up close picture of the trellis.  You know, just in case we ever have the time, space, or money to replicate it.

Also on the list of wild dreams: a tunnel like this. 

I'll go ahead and add giant rhododendrons to that list as well.

Doesn't all of that make you want to visit England?  Aaron and I have commented several times how much of a dream it all felt like - partly because of how ridiculously picturesque it was.  (Also partly because we were traveling with a toddler who slept poorly, but that's bygones.)

I'm itching for spring to arrive in full force, to spend afternoons digging and sowing, but there is a certain magic to early spring.  There are no bugs or droughts or bad soil to contend with in early spring.  There are simply so many garden dreams, and they all seem possible.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Spilled Cup

I came across that quote when I was in college, and I remembered it today as I sat down to write, thinking over the ways life has jarred me lately.  It feels silly to call the last few months jarring. Nothing tragic or truly difficult has happened.  It's just been life on double speed, with enough tangles and frustrations to tilt the scale toward hard.  The pressing, the tugging, the balancing act always near toppling - all of it has exposed the liquid in my cup for what it really is.

It's those nearest us that get to see the drops spill, one by one.  They catch the bitterness or sweetness in their arms as they stand by.

When Aaron and I got married seven years ago, I prayed that our marriage would be something different: a story that spoke of God, a long song of hope, a real life laboratory to prove the existence of forgiveness, long-suffering, redemption.

But the months fold into years, and at times, we're just two people getting by.  Folding underwear and begrudging the socks left outside the hamper.  Putting the kids to bed and watching re-runs of The Office.  We take on extra commitments, as we have in the last few months, and the silent grudge about the socks turns into a rant.  I'm tired and stressed and picking a fight becomes my default.

I remember the wife I wanted to be as a dream in the night.  It's a foggy storyline that I can't quite make reality.  The gaping distance between who I want to be and who I am.  All that bitter water on the ground, waiting to be turned into a puddle sweet.

And so, last weekend, it was just another stressed-out night, me forgetting that I needed to make a meal for a family at church, dropping the lasagna noodles into a boiling pot at nine o'clock and throwing punches at a pile of french bread dough.  Aaron came into the kitchen with his laptop and set it on the counter with a grin.  "I tried to put on You've Got Mail, but I think we lost the DVD," he said.  "Sleepless in Seattle is your second favorite, right?"

You've seen it?  Black sky dotted with stars, music.  Annie and Walter at the family Christmas.  Sam, on the bench, talking with Dr. Marsha about his deceased wife on live radio.  "Maggie, my wife, she really...I mean, she loved...she made everything beautiful."

I glanced at Aaron.  His eyes were wet.  He reached over and grabbed my hand.

She made everything beautiful.  I swallowed those four words and they echoed in my caverns.  Me, I make things complicated and tense.  I make mountains out of molehills.  But to be a woman who moves through life turning the ugly into beauty, the bitter into sweet, to be a woman who watches her Savior and moves as He does, I want that.  

One line from a 1993 Tom Hanks hit, and God undoes me.

At church the next morning, my heart still soft and sorrowful, my dad preached from Exodus.  Often, he said, we look at our sin and say, "Well, I've tried, and this is as good as it's gonna get."  Like the Israelites in the desert, we'll wander around in the muck and never spring for the Promised Land.

In my seat, I thought about how I have sinned and sinned against my husband, passing the buck to hormones, or feeling weary, or best of all, "being honest."  God has more, my dad insisted.  God leads us out of our sin.  He is the God of the great exodus.  Moving us out of sin, moving us into holiness.

My cup drips the waters of Marah, and I feel stuck in ruts I've scraped deep for too long.

Not too deep, He whispers.  Not too bitter.

My dad on the stage, he pleads with us to believe that what God did for His children then He does for His children now, and I can't stop picturing the Red Sea, cracked right down the middle by the hand of Jehovah, all that water surging skyward.

God knows what to do with water.  He knows how to change water to bring His children to freedom. I will ask.

Empty this bitter cup, Lord, and fill it up sweet.