When my daughter was around ten, she walked home from school clutching a bright purple flower she’d picked from a neighbor’s front yard. “Can we get this?” she asked. She knew of my love of gardening, and it filled me with joy to think she was noticing plants on her way home from school.
I knew the flower to be from a clematis plant, that twining vine with the star-shaped blooms. Within a week, I went out and bought one. I didn’t tell her, because I wanted her to have the delight of one day seeing them bloom through the railing on our front steps.
Good thing I didn’t mention it, because it withered and died.
I would try three more times with clematis, hopefully picking spots near trellises and entryways. Each time, the pricey plant was displeased with its designated spot and theatrically wilted and died. I am a sporadic waterer at best – I seem to have inherited my mom’s attitude that if it wants to hang around, it will learn the ropes around these parts – but I did my best with the clematis. Shade. Sun. Southern exposure. None. Other plants ran riot under my benign neglect, but coddle as I might the clematis, I could not entice it to stick around.
The last two that died I simply tipped out of the pot and tossed behind matching small pines, out of sight, there for when I got around to a clean-up. This spot is a known (to me) plant graveyard when I just don’t want to deal with something anymore. Sometimes, when something dies in the flower boxes on the railing by my porch, I pluck it out and then it drop to this spot, which is shielded from street view by bushes and plants.
I’m about as dedicated to clean-up as I am to watering, so the clean-up never happened. (I am far more motivated for the glamour acts of gardening, the seeding, the picking of flowers). Two days ago, as I walked to my car, I spotted it… the vibrant purple flower of the discarded clematis peeking out from around the small pine. I ran to the other side, where the second dead plant had been left.
That was blooming too.
Happy, I texted my mom a picture. We share seedlings and rhizomes and garden stories. We trade pictures of our favorite garden shots. I knew she’d appreciate the unexpected joy of a thing seemingly dead coming back to life. She is a champion plant rescuer, trolling garden centers for the plants they’re about to throw out. She buys them for pennies, or sometimes prevails on harried garden center workers to just hand them to her to spare them the trip to the dumpster. She works some kind of magic on the sad-looking, nearly-dead things, despite her refusal to use fertilizer. Within weeks, they’re showy and strong, exhaling their relief at finally being loved and understood.
I hadn’t performed such acts of mercy on my clematis, but the result had been similar, something there when before there had been nothing.
But it was my mom’s response to my text that made it even better. She said, “It’s a lesson that life gives you. When you think all is lost, something good happens.”
Let my clematis remind you.