Saturday, June 18, 2011

13 Years and Counting

Thirteen years ago last month, my beloved and I left California and headed east to start a new life in Maine. We'd given ourselves a month to get there, stopping along the way to visit people and places that had played important roles in our lives. In Michigan, the destination was Aunt Judy.

Over the decades and with the help of a plan drawn by her father, my Aunt Judy has transformed a flat, windswept plot of construction dirt into a magical garden. Tiny trees planted when her own children were young have become tall, majestic creatures that keep the outside world at bay and reach out to welcome you in. When I think of Frances Hodgson Burnett and her secret garden, I think of Aunt Judy's house.

I still remember opening the car door and being immediately hit with that intoxicating fragrance of earth and plants and life—a Michigan summer in full swing. I remember feeling ecstatic that I was finally moving back to a place whose climate would allow such a garden—and where, I hoped, I would actually have a home in which to create it.

Aunt Judy's garden contained "rooms" of different trees and bushes and plants, following traditional garden design principles. Behind her house was a tall, seemingly impenetrable hedge that concealed a circle of the most beautiful dogwoods I'd ever seen, also in full bloom.

I gasped, "Do you think these would grow in Maine?" She smiled and went back to the house for a trowel.

Two spindly dogwood seedlings rode to Maine with us, packed with their soil in a green paperboard box that'd originally held strawberries. They sat indoors on my only south-facing windowsill for over a year. One seedling survived. I planted it the following year, and it managed to take hold and grow a little more.

Then I moved again, this time to the place I now call home. On a brisk October afternoon I dug a hole for my spindly twig, tucked it in, and said a quiet prayer. For years, I have cosseted this tree, covering it with layers of straw for winter protection, creating a makeshift cage around it during the summer to make sure nobody stepped on it by mistake. I talked to it—I still do. And even now when the wind blows, I worry.

Slowly but surely, my little tree has grown. First a few inches, then a foot, then two, then three. Last year for the first time I noticed a bird sitting on one of its branches. Only one thing has baffled me: This tree has never, ever bloomed.

I tried all sorts of things, and I consulted with Aunt Judy, and we could only declare it a genetic mystery. Mine was a non-blooming dogwood. What was I to expect, considering its humble roots? While I've allowed myself the occasional glance at "normal" dogwoods at the garden store, I love my little non-blooming dogwood dearly and wouldn't have it any other way.

You'll imagine my worry when, last weekend, Clare yelled up from the garden, "Is this what I think it is?"

In the past, this question has meant bad news, like poison ivy, a woodchuck hole, or the beginning of some terrible plant virus. But this time, when I ran outside to see what she was talking about, I was greeted by this:

In the face of fast-fast-fast - the instant gratification, quick-knitting, no-knead, instant-download, replace-it-every-year world we've created - I love that this took 13 years. In the life lesson department, nature always wins.


Lanea said...

Bloom, little Dogwood!
(As an aside, the captcha word I'm facing is "rednex." Thanks captcha, I think you and your family are a bunch of citified fools, so we're even.)

JelliDonut said...

This was lovely! Thank you.

Kayten said...

I'm hoping to write a post shortly about the double mock orange I inherited when I bought this house six years ago. My friend has been trying to convince me not to get rid of it. It has had 5 blooms since I've been here. It leafs out late and looks good for about 3 1/2 seconds, then looks like crap. I've pruned, fed, and talked to it. This year it may actually bloom a bit, with luck before July. Maybe.
I love your dogwood, though. I'm nursing along a spindly smoke tree I planted to mark the grave of a much loved dog. The things we do while we are in this world!

Deborah Robson said...

Gorgeous. I've been back to places where I planted trees years ago and wish I'd planted some here; I didn't expect to stay this long. Think of the trees I'd have!

Cat Bordhi said...

I so love this. I love that you and Clare took a month to transition across the country, stopping along the way where love had already taken root, and how Aunt Judy blessed you with those baby trees, and how you have loved your little dogwood with or without blooms...and now to think there is a bloom. Slow is exquisite. Fast is a blur.

NanciKnits said...

In the Jewish tradition, 13 is a significant number, as it is the age at which a young person becomes an adult, through the ritual of Bat(female)/Bar(male) Mitzvah. As she has bloomed right on schedule, in her 13th year, I would like to (un)officially declare your dogwood an adult tree. Becoming a Bat Mitzvah carries with it responsibilities to grow and flourish. She is to always honor her parents, Clara and Clare by blooming to the best of her ability every spring or suffer pangs of Jewish guilt..... AMEN!

Janel Laidman said...

Such pretty blooms. Our dogwood blooms here are pink and not so pointy. Last year our dogwoods did not bloom except for maybe 10 forlorn blooms. Apparently our extremely wet/nonexistent spring meant the tree skipped right past blooming and went into leafing. This year, they bloomed twice as much as usual (even though we are still experiencing a wet, cool spring/summer).

I think NanciKnits is right, your dogwood has now reached the age of maturity and will continue to bloom, weather cooperating.

I recently dug up a bunch of Japanese maple seedlings in our yard and was astonished at how small the root balls were in relation to the size of the tree.

Donna in VA said...


sean said...

what a sweet lovely story! thanks!

scifiknitter said...

Between the story and the other comments, this was one of the best things of today for me.

Also, as a person who follows your work but does not know your whole story, I was delighted to learn that you have long lasting love as part of your life. Although, now that I think of it, I shouldn't be surprised because love always shines through your words.

blb said...

Oh, I loved this! Anc could relate. We too have a dogwood "tree" that I thought was of the nonblooming variety. It was a long-ago Father's Day gift from my little daughter, who is grown up now and long since moved away. But this year, for the first time, it was covered with beautiful big white blossoms. So worth the wait.

NutmegOwl said...

My twig that went into the ground was an Edith Cavell white lilac from a dear friend's garden several hours away. It took six years of similar care before it resembled a shrub and began bearing the most heavenly-scented blooms in the spring. When I leave this house, either it, or its progeny, will leave with me. I'm not surprised but certainly delighted to share a similar story to yours, my friend.

Lorna's Laces said...

I have tears in my eyes. When I was about 8 years old, my father moved a dogwood seedling and planted it smack dab in the middle of the front yard of the house where I grew up. He cosseted and coddled that tree to no end and was always so proud of the blooms.

What is it about dogwoods that inspires such devotion?

havenmaven said...

Thank you for your post. I have/had two pagoda dogwoods in my front yard. One died for no apparent reason and was cut down just this past week. The empty space shouts at me ! Enjoy its grace and beauty.

Peggy said...

Could it be squirrels? Just this year I noticed a squirrel carefully climbing out to eat the dogwood flowers on my dogwood. I think of them more as wild forest trees than garden dwellers anyway.

Anna said...

Thank you for your lovely story, and feelings that made my heart almost cry, while feeling deeply moved to happiness!