how does your garden grow?
Note: This article was written several weeks ago for She Loves Magazine. In the days that followed Florence Marigold Evanow passed away from SMA.
The year I first planted a garden was the year we were told our baby daughter had Spinal Muscular Atrophy: an incurable, deadly, neuromuscular disease.
I was literally elbow deep in dirt when I got the phone call from the doctor.
I carry with me a deeply rooted memory. I was on my knees, sweating under the June or July sun, with the crackling baby monitor clipped to my hip, when I felt my phone buzzing in my back pocket. It was the start of summer. I can’t remember when—but I believe it was June. Unlike many folks who have Diagnosis Day written on their calendars, I’ve tried to blot out this date from my memory, from my life. I carry things for a long while, and I never wanted to carry this number and month. Little did I know that the memory would resurface every spring, and in each pocketful of seeds.
It was my first real garden, and it was in our lush backyard: a beautiful raised bed garden previously tended to by an Italian neighbour. After he passed away, I reluctantly assumed responsibility of this vast plot of dirt. I planted three weeks after giving birth to my daughter, even though my body ached. I was determined to have fresh food for the summer.
Much of that garden ending up rotting: instead of harvesting, I watched the greens fade and the zucchinis grow large and inedible. I abandoned it. My heart could not handle the rich, fertile landscape. I realized with terror, that life keeps blooming, even when my own life was being cut back to a tiny nub.
But in that unblemished, innocent moment, I was filled with pride and hope when I looked at my garden. All of my vegetables were poking up out of the ground. Some, like the pearl potatoes, were coming up early. I was harvesting them as my phone rang. I stuffed as many as I could into my cotton peasant shirt and picked up the hems while showing off my soft, postpartum belly to the neighbours. I ran inside with the phone pressed to my damp ear while talking to the doctor. I released the potatoes into the sink and scattered specks of dirt onto the kitchen floor. My hands were caked with sticky dirt, and as I was scrubbing them clean, the doctor told me she had the results from the test. I knew they didn’t tell patients horrible things over the phone, but I could tell by the tone of her voice that she had very awful news for me.
My voice became guttural then, and I moaned, “Tell me. Just tell me.”
She did and I remember crumpling to the floor. I felt the thick, hoarse wail fill my lungs, like phlegm. I remember frantically calling my husband, my parents, my in laws—no one answered. I finally got a hold of my dad first, “She has it, she has it. My baby has it.”
The memory ends here. I don’t remember much else.
But I keep coming back to the garden: the innocent, hard work of pulling weeds and tending to vegetables. Before the Ache. Before the trauma.
I’m a messy, unprepared gardener. I’ve discovered that I enjoy dumping seeds into the ground and hoping for the best. What grows easily? What takes work? What succumbs to pests? What flourishes in the Pacific Northwest?
I experiment with different varieties and vegetables every year, but one thing remains constant: I line my garden with marigolds. They are magnificent at repelling bugs and slugs, and their spicy, sweet scent and vibrant orange petals charm the socks off me. Every year, I plant them in a row and stare proudly at my little marigolds.