Column, Living the Dream

Living life to the fullest, a goal I extend to my perennials

By Merisa Sherman

When I went for my garden tour this morning I found that something had started nibbling on a few of the 75 hostas that I divided and transplanted last year — you know, when we had lots of free time where we weren’t supposed to leave our properties. There was a pile of hostas in the middle of the field that hadn’t been divided in over 10 years. They were in an awkward location, right in front of the bonfire and were constantly being stepped on or fallen into. And so I had to save them, finding them new homes somewhere on the property where they could be happy for years to come, a place where they would not just survive, but thrive. So I got a little carried away, but there was Nothing. Else. To. Do.

Honestly though, that’s how I feel about all my perennials. Caring for them is my obligation. The past month has been a whirlwind of transplants and divisions, restructuring and fertilizing, noticing and caring. I moved some rudbeckias to a new home
that I thought they would like and my heart breaks to see how miserable they are. Instead of big, proud leaves, the plant is barely struggling to survive and I stress a bit as to whether to move it now or wait until next year. It’s my fault that the sunflowers are suffering and I must now find a way to save them. They are my responsibility.

I have no idea how this happened. 

I’m really just a rock lover — I love to dig and move things. I’m super happy when I’m sorting rocks from the soil and using them to create paths and rock walls. Currently, I am in a shoveling project to excavate a pair of rather large rocks because I want to see what they look like. I like rocks. I love how each one is like a snowflake, completely unique and with their own story to tell. Gather a bunch of them together, and they can create movement or shelter. One rock standing on its own can be a complete work of art.

But with the moving of rocks comes the transplanting of perennials, filling in gaps in the new structures to highlight the rocks themselves. And so I began to notice the plants that I moved around, learning which ones wanted to soak up the sun while others wanted only to shrivel up into a brown and yellow sadness. It became a puzzle, finding which plants went in which location, a mind game that is never ending as plants outgrow their homes or just need to be adjusted.

As I dove further in the perennial world, I began to find other people who were working on this same puzzle. A visit to someone’s home means a guided tour of their gardens, as they showcase their successes and seek advice to their dilemmas. All in the hope that they might somehow help make their plants the happiest, no matter where the idea came from. Together, we search for answer to our puzzles. We trade knowledge. We also trade plants. 

We see how our plant might do better under the loving guidance of another and so we give that plant away. Or we see the perfect spot for a bunch of sunflowers in our neighbors’ garden and so we offer a division from one of our own beloved plants. Most likely, we have more daylilies than we know what to do with and are trying to give away because, well, they are daylilies. But we see it is more important to find the perfect home for the plant rather than force it to live a less than full life in its current state.

Thus began my now daily ritual to check on each and every planted plant on my property, my bare feet grounding me. To reconnect with the earth each morning, to not only feel the grass beneath my toes but to notice the changes all around me. For my heart to skip with joy at the first bloom of the season, to watch the colors fade with a fond sense of farewell.  To watch the plants grow, day after day, year after year, into a absolutely glorious work of art. And to know that the caring of this gift of Mother Nature is my responsibility; that is amazing.

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