How I Grew a Garden from My Grief

Nature can help us heal.

I recently wrote an essay on this platform entitled, “My Mother’s Plant.” You can check out the piece here https://medium.com/be-open/my-mothers-plant-fd05312242c6. In that essay, I talked about the need to keep my mother’s plant alive. And now, after losing my mother to cancer, how that one plant turned me into a gardener.

My mother’s plant sits on a sun-splashed windowsill above our kitchen sink. Next to it are some younger plants keeping it company. Every morning I check on the plants, watering them and removing dead leaves. These are the only plants in the house. Outside, on our back porch, is a different story.

I’ve turned our back porch into a garden. It went from a few potted plants to now I’m growing carrots, tomatoes, and watermelon. It began in the Spring of 2020 at the start of the pandemic. As we prepared for lockdown, I was looking for something to occupy my time (not that I didn’t have tons of other stuff to do around the house). I specifically wanted to start growing plants on the back porch.

I had gotten the idea from my friend. She’s a plant lover and has tons of plants in her home. Her back porch is also a garden with a variety of flowers and she grows vegetables on a small front porch. I admired her green love and love of plants. As a lover of nature, I always admired the colorful gardens of my neighbors during the Spring and Summer months. I wanted to try growing one of my own.

So it began with purchasing some potted plants from Home Depot and Lowes then I bought some pots and seeds. I wanted to see if I had a green thumb. March and April is the perfect time to gather gardening supplies. I began collecting different gardening materials from Ocean State Job Lot and Walmart. Soon, the back porch was filled with growing things.

I spent the Summer and Fall of 2020 tending to my garden. The plan was to continue working on the garden until November. I figured that’s when it would be too cold for the plants to survive. However, my region of the country is known for having unpredictable weather. In October, on Halloween, we had our first snowstorm.

Fortunately, I had already prepared for the situation. I had purchased some plant dropcloths from Amazon. Fighting the swirling snow, I quickly wrapped up the plants. As winter descended into my city, I feared the cold and snow would destroy my fledgling Eden. I wouldn’t know until the weather warmed up in the Spring.

Luckily, we had a pretty reasonable winter (and that’s saying a lot for my state). We weren’t buried under tons of snow. We actually had more rain than snow. In addition, we had warmer days where temperatures were in the 40s and 50s than in the 20s and 30s. By March of 2021, the weather had warmed up enough for me to remove the dropcloths.

Most of my plants had survived the winter. I had lost one of my potted rose bushes and a flowering tree. But the rest of the plants had made it. Some, to my surprise, had even continued growing under the drop cloths. I didn’t have to start from scratch.

During the Spring of 2021, I added to my garden. I decided to try my hand at growing fruit and vegetables. I planted carrots, corn, radishes, tomatoes, and watermelon. So far, they’re growing nicely, as are my other plants. I’m growing a variety of flowers such as lilacs, poppies, and roses.

Every day, after work, I would go to the back porch and check on my plants. They have become a part of my life. I find comfort amongst all of the greenery. I’m excited when I see new buds pushing up through the soil. My plants have started to flower, attracting bees and butterflies.

My mother’s love of flowers has inspired me to grow flowers. The garden gives me purpose. By next Spring, I plan to expand to our backyard. Whenever I’m on the back porch, I feel a sense of calm. The grief of losing my mother is held at bay. The garden is a tribute to my mother. Wherever her spirit dwells, I hope she can see it.

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Shirley is a poet and writer. Ms. Luke enjoys reading, fashion and travel. She is working on a manuscript of her poems and an essay collection.

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Shirley Jones Luke

Shirley is a poet and writer. Ms. Luke enjoys reading, fashion and travel. She is working on a manuscript of her poems and an essay collection.