I have beautiful hydrangeas in my front yard. They are what’s called snowflake hydrangeas. They are a hybrid that was cultivated right here in Alabama and I think they are beautiful.
But the ones in my yard aren’t really mine and never have been.
Years ago an acquaintance from church that I liked very much decided to quit doing nails for a living and follow her passion for gardening. She began her landscaping business and since I love to support local businesses, especially if I actually know the person involved, I asked for her help.
The people who lived here before us were the type of gardeners who had a personal relationship with each blade of grass in their yard. We are not like that, so the yard was slowly going downhill. It is on a busy street, so everyone in our town sees our yard. It used to be a show stopper, it wasn’t any more.
My friend came and we worked out a plan. The back yard needed a little help and the front yard needed a lot. It was not our style at all- all grass and boxwood.
My friend and I worked together to take out the shrubbery and replace it with hydrangeas and loropetalum. Both being Alabama fans we laughed that we were going for the red and white look. We also put crepe myrtles and other smaller plants in the back yard.
We worked for two summers getting the yard the way we wanted. My friend did most of the work, but I would assist her as much as I could. She would tell me to go in when it got too hot. After all, she would tell me, I was paying her to do this work and she loved it. I usually stayed with her.
We talked about life, religion and politics, family, dreams and regrets. We grew from church acquaintances to close friends. I loved our days gardening together.
My friend would fuss at me when I forgot to water and laugh at me when I was so ignorant about gardening.
I can remember looking out the window one day as I came in to get us water to drink. My friend had gone from a pale, unsure manicurist to a lean, muscular, tanned landscaper. I remember vividly thinking how happy and healthy she looked. She seemed so fulfilled and looked beautiful. She had fearlessly followed her dream.
It was less than a month later that she told me her news. And less than a year later, she was gone.
I can’t tell the story today, I just can’t, although I might have told you before anyway. The last time I saw my friend she was no longer the strong, sure, tanned woman I had watched through the window that day, she was a thin, frail woman with her bald head wrapped in a colorful scarf. She asked if we could go by the church after the lunch that she ordered, but didn’t eat.
She walked around every inch of the church looking at the remodeling. The new things fascinated her, but so did the old things she had seen a million times. She kept telling me she wanted to remember it all. She told me that she knew it was the last time she would ever see her church. I argued, but she knew. She knew. She was being fearless again.
I have protected what she planted. When plumbers dug up some of her plantings in our back yard and threw them away against my wishes, I cried for two days. When the new workshop was added, most of the rest of what she planted in back was gone. I had to just face it. When Tim pushed me to cut the front bushes down because they were overtaking the house, I fought him for years.
See- they aren’t my bushes. They are my friends. And I protect them for her.
Soon after my mom died, I was driving home one day and as I passed the front of our house to go around the back and come in from the alley, I realized how out of control the bushes were. I realized I had protected them to the point of letting them get ugly and unruly. My friend would be horrified.
I came in the house and called our new landscaper and we met and put together a plan. We saved all of the hydrangeas, just moved them. There was no guarantee that when we moved them (in a drought, I might add) that they would survive. But we did the best we could.
Every year I call the church and ask them to use as many hydrangeas as they can in arrangements on the altar. My friend loved flowers, but she loved God and the church more. I know she loved seeing the flowers filling the church. I feared I had destroyed that.
All through the winter I watched the hydrangeas, the relocated ones looked dead. I even broke off a piece of a branch and it was dry and dead. I wanted to cry, but waited.
When spring came around I saw a few buds on the cut back remnants we had stuck in the ground and by the end of March every single transplant had signs of fresh, green new life.
This particular hybrid only blooms on old growth so I knew none of the cut back, moved bushes would bloom, so I left the three unmoved bushes in front untrimmed. They grew wildly over the past year and when the small blooms began to shoot out in April, I knew what was coming.
As I write, a group of ladies from the church are cutting flowers outside of my window for arrangements for a special celebration in the church tomorrow. We are honoring our high school seniors. As a youth counselor at the church for years, my friend would be thrilled that her hydrangeas are being used for that.
The blooms are plentiful and beautiful. They seem to be celebrating the fact that the transplants are all alive and healthy, ready to join them next year in making our street glorious. They seem ready to be shared with friends and church members. And I think my friend looks down, happy that I remember to water her plants and share her work with the community.
When I look out of my window and see the delicate, white flowers, I always see my strong, tanned friend outside digging in the dirt as I get us ice water to drink. I think of how much we talked about important things as we worked together and how I will never forget the things I learned working with her during those summers. Things about plants, and about life and about perseverance.
They are not my hydrangeas, they are hers. They have survived and now they belong to everyone.