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Everybody Gardens | Doug Oster

On a warm spring afternoon, the sun highlighted a row of daffodils in such a way that the orange fringe of the cups exploded with color. I’ve seen them bloom every season for the past 20 but never really noticed the dark apricot center of the flower.

I began to daydream a bit, pondering who planted them in a thin strip of dirt between the sidewalk and the house. They always bloom too early, eventually laying flat on the sidewalk after a cold snap and then resurrecting as temperatures rise. I wonder if this was a calculated planting or another happy accident? The bulbs get everything they need in the spring, with the heat of the house and sidewalk, and then during the summer as the ground completely dries out under the eaves. They have continued to thrive for the past two decades.

The same way I reflect on the previous gardener at my home, somewhere down the road, someone will wonder about all the plants I’ve added to my garden.

Introspection

Birthday milestones often bring with them introspection. Turning 21, 30, 40 and 50 can wreak havoc with the mind, sometimes sending a person into the depths of midlife crisis. I’ve flirted with it a few times. The older we get though, the sillier those early birthday reactions seem.

But as my 60th looms, I realize that much of what is being added to my garden today will be enjoyed by someone else who might wonder who planted the tree, shrub, perennial or bulbs. Just as I’m curious about the daffodils, forsythia, peonies and tall zebra grasses that grace this garden.

For my entire gardening life, I’ve planted for myself and my family, and even though I’ll certainly still enjoy everything being planted now, when it comes to bigger trees, there’s a realization 25 years down the road they will be providing interest and beauty for someone else. If I make it to 70, I’ll probably look back at my thoughts at turning 60 with a laugh.

It was really at the end of the winter that the thoughts lingered though, as I started to examine getting older and not being around to see the trees reach maturity. I lost a younger brother in November and had him on my mind as I dug a planting hole for a huge American hornbeam, found on sale as the season ended. It was in a 30-gallon container and nearly 7 feet tall. I struggled to drag the pot up over a stone step and then into the planting area.

Dedicated to Rich

A huge oak tree had fallen in the forest that spring, leaving room to add some more interesting varieties, including a sourwood and this hornbeam. My wife, who’s not a gardener, saw me wrestling with the tree and came over to help. Finally at the planting hole, the plastic pot needed to be cut with a pruning saw to free the roots. Once in place, I started to put the backfill back into the planting hole and my wife remarked, “Make sure it’s not planted too deep.” I looked up, surprised that she knew one of the most important rules of tree planting. It’s funny how osmosis taught the lesson, as she has heard it hundreds of times over the past 40 years together.

As I finished up the planting she walked by with our dogs in tow, “You could dedicate that tree to (your brother) Rich.” I never thought of that, as it’s something I try to talk people out of because losing a plant with such a special meaning can be a terrible thing. But I thought it was a wonderful idea. It’s nice to have a yin to my yang, someone who’s caring enough to bring up such a suggestion.

I walked by the hornbeam the other day and was excited to see it leafing out. There’s no plaque or sign at its base, so my wife and I are the only ones who know to whom it’s dedicated.

I hope the next gardener who lives here enjoys the shade and beauty of the tree and maybe even wonders who planted a towering American hornbeam in an oak forest and why.

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