Images and essay by Janet Grace Riehl
Hope sits quietly.
So pregnant with potential.
Clearly ready to open fully at any second.
–Said a friend who would cringe to be thought a poet
Pop (over the phone): “What are you doing?”
Janet: “Watching my hyacinths grow.”
My mother raised flowers galore. If she was going to grow a day lily, why not 500 varieties? While she’s at it, why not map out each color and kind on graph paper and then plant the beds like a Monet painting? Why not stake them as if in an arboretum and then move them around to improve the real life painting? Her only problem was that being equipped with only three children and one husband she was short-staffed
I knew firsthand the price of those glorious garden paintings, and never grew flowers—inside or out. Then, by chance I found that if I kept my garden on a tiny scale I could be an avid gardener too.
I wheeled my cart past hyacinths in the store—blooming and pricey. The wafting scent stayed with me even when I unloaded the groceries in my father’s kitchen. A field trip was in order to White’s Greenhouse on the other hill. I went to school with Jim. He started his business in 1976, and now its annual revenue exceeds $5 million. Yet, it’s still an unassuming family business. I stepped inside the greenhouse late in the day.
“Do you have hyacinths yet?”
“That’s okay. I’d rather grow them from the bulbs.”
She took me over to a cluster of pots with green spears just poking up through the dirt.
“We have pink and blue. What would you like?”
I chose blue and left with three pots—each filled with three plants—all for less than $25. Back at my father’s I soaked them, and left them in the cardboard flat they came in. They rested on my floor of my upstairs bedroom with indirect light so they wouldn’t come on too fast.
I went back to my place in St. Louis for a few days. When I came back, I saw humps of dirt displaced by the energetic plants bursting upwards. This time when I packed to go back to the city I took them with me in a white oval enamel wash pan I grabbed from our back porch. Back in my apartment I placed them by my picture window where I could keep a good eye on them.
I’d only known gardening as hard work—without the joy. But in my secret garden I was surprised by joy as I watched the little plants poke through the dirt and grow all the way to blooming. Each morning they amazed me with another upward bound. I put giant paper clips in the pots to measure their progress—like marking a child’s height in pencil on a wall. Over the next weeks more plants poked up their heads. I didn’t have 9 plants. I had 15.
I carried my hyacinths back and forth from my place in the city to Pop’s place in the country and back again and again in the white enamel pan. They proved to be good companions. Amid the blizzards and unusual chill they testified to the humbleness of the life force around us and in us. They proclaimed hope for all that is green, and good, and glorious.
Yesterday I decided to transplant them. I carefully trod down the icy back steps at my father’s around the corner to our potting basement down limestone steps. I ducked through the doorway and squinted in the dim light to locate a bucket of soil and clay pots. The plastic bag of perlite fell apart in my hands and the white beads piled on the dirt floor. I scooped up what I needed and left the clean-up for a warmer day. As I got deeper into the narrow basement in search of clay pots I found that the spiders had been busy. Along with the pots and dirt I left covered with cobwebs.
I lined the sink with newspaper and set to my task—using less than a model technique. I was definitely out of practice. But, with some gravel for drainage and some dirt and potting soil mixed with perlite, I ended up with 15 plants in 10 pots. Some of the plants came from offshoots of the same bulb; I let these be.
Then, on to the great give-away: to my niece, one of my father’s caregivers, a friend in the city. And some for me to keep in the white enamel pan on top of the walnut chest my father made so many years ago.
Pop (over the phone): “What are you doing?”
Janet: “My hyacinths bloomed, Daddy. But I’m still watching them grow.”
S-l-o-w living is so good for the soul.
P. S. Check out Chris Bradley’s January post “Surprised by Hope.” She gave us two writing prompts:
1) What reminds you to be hopeful?
2) Have you been physically comforted by nature?
Janet Riehl is an artist, writer, storyteller and glad when joy finds her. You can learn more about her work at Riehl Life: Village Wisdom for the 21st Century. Creating connections through the arts and across cultures.