Growing Flowers Saved Me
Growing up, I used to help my mom plant cuttings from her many patio plants. There was something methodical about it that I appreciated even as a very small child: cut the plant just so, dip it in root solution, and then plant it in a small dirt-filled pot. But it wasn’t until one day when she was planting pansies that I fell in love with a flower. I was maybe 4 or 5 years old and I just had to know what it was. It was one of the most enchanting things I had seen. My love for flowers began there.
And while I helped my mom and grandfather garden here and there, it wasn’t until I was 16 that I felt the pull of gardening as a salvation. In many ways, the year at school that I was 15 and 16 was one of the best years of my life. But it was also one of the most difficult years. Each month, it seemed, something happened that broke my heart. My parents were divorcing. A sweet boy, who was my age, died unexpectedly. I stopped liking my first real boyfriend and didn’t know why. My grandparents - who were like parents to me - moved away. And my hometown was in shambles, destroyed in a way I will never adequately be able to describe to anyone who did not go through it, by Hurricane Andrew.
These, and other things that happened that year, were tough times for me and I felt sad and alone and I don’t know what else.
And then there was the day that my mother took me to Home Depot to get things for the home we were trying to re-create. This was before Hurricane Andrew but after a lot of the other bad stuff had already happened. As we were walking through the aisle, we passed some flower seeds and I knew in some deep place that what I needed to do was to grow flowers. My mom was more of a planter - she planted cuttings and seedlings. I wanted to grow flowers from scratch, from seeds. And so I chose several types of flowers, knowing almost nothing about the kinds of flowers that did and didn’t grow well from seeds in Florida and I put them in the cart. That my mother bought these seeds for me turned out to be one of the greatest gifts of my life.
I found a spot in the ground outside my bedroom window and planted the seeds. Each day I would water them and check for signs of growth. The zinnias, in particular, grew quick and strong. The morning glories? Not so well in the hot Florida sun. And all that winter and spring, as things fell down around me (the divorce, the boy who died, the relationship that dissolved, and a few other things), the flowers grew. They gave me hope. They gave me something to talk to. They gave me a place to go when I was sad. It made me feel excited, optimistic, and needed in a way I wasn’t otherwise experiencing.
And months later, after our home was destroyed in the hurricane and I was going through some of the rubble, I saw that the zinnias - which are generally regarded as annuals - had come back. My eyes welled with tears. They were growing again and this, too, saved me.
Although I’m not sure what zinnias saved me from (sadness? despair? something worse?), I know that they did. I felt it then and I know it now. Since then, my love of gardening has spanned a number of years and a number of very good and very bad things. And though I now live in Indiana and grow hydrangeas, mums, periwinkle, roses, cosmos, berries, and tomatoes, I still plant zinnias in my garden.