November 21, 2016
“Monday’s child is fair of face…”
These are merely tiny gardening stories, but real nonetheless, and some were also miraculous nonetheless. It all began to happen with the first time I planted a rose bush, in the Spring of 1985, and some of the tiny stories are so startling I’ll never forget them.
We had just been transferred to a military base near my husband’s hometown in New Jersey, in the winter of 1988. He was going to retire in a few years, so had wanted us to be stationed near where he grew up, and where his parents still lived. I was always trying my hand at gardening, even though that was tough to do while living in military housing on the various military bases that were scattered from California to Germany. I remember how badly I had wanted to plant roses in the backyard of our newest quarters. I loved roses, so had always wanted a pretty rose garden area where I could go and pick my roses to my heart’s content each summer. I had two glaring deficiencies, however, one of which was my lack of gardening experience, the other one being a lack of spendable cash, due to an extremely tight budget. A meager budget made buying all of the chemical products the roses needed to help them survive such awful things as “black spot fungus”, “powdery mildew”, as well as the seemingly inevitable aphid invasions, very hard for me to do, which was so discouraging to me.
A few years prior to our moving to this new military base in late 1988, we had lived on the Ft. Gordon military base in Georgia. I had managed to plant one rose bush that not only survived the first year, but also began to thrive, becoming quite large by the end of its first growing season. It was a bright tangerine rose called, “Tropicana”, that I’d picked up at the local supermarket one afternoon in the late spring. It was nearing the end of the planting season, and all the little rose bushes the store had sitting outside its front entrance looked as though, if they didn’t find a home soon, the next place they’d find themselves would be out in back of the store, in the dumpster. So, since I had a couple of dollars, I took a chance and bought the “Tropicana” rose, and could hardly wait to get it into the ground. I planted it out in the front yard of our quarters, with all of the hope, and great expectations of any novice gardener, I’m sure! Somehow, coupled with help from Georgia’s near-perfect climate for gardening, I think I did almost everything right, because that beautiful rose bush took off, and never looked back. It’s roses filled the bush by its second summer, and during that second summer it reached a height of around 4 ft.!
However, it was at the beginning of that second growing season that I suddenly realized something was not quite right with the rose bush. It had begun looking a bit sickly, with some of its leaves turning yellow and dropping to the ground. That’s when I remembered that roses are not only water hungry, but also food hungry. I realized to my dismay that the soil it was planted in was unable to sustain it by itself! Somehow I was able to get enough money together, and my younger son and I set off for the base P.X., to see if I could buy the rose bush some much needed food. I found some, and also found that I could actually afford it. After I got home, and had placed the rose food around the bush’s base, I watered it good, and within a week’s time it was back to it’s normal, lush and thriving self. Whew–a rose disaster averted!
There was one problem, though. I hadn’t realized how devastated rose bushes could become due to those nasty things such as “powdery mildew”, and “black spot”, since, there in Georgia for some reason, those fungal infections never bothered my “Tropicana” rose bush at all. So, I was totally unprepared for what was about to happen to all the rose bushes I was able to plant in the backyard of our newest quarters in New Jersey, in the Spring of 1989. My younger son and I had split the cost of buying quite a few rose bushes that spring, and he helped me plant each one in the circular area we’d prepared for them out near the back door, where they would receive full sun morning, noon and half the afternoon.
We had to dig up quite a large area of grass in order to create what would become the rose bed, but it was worth the effort to both of us. I can’t even remember what colors of roses we’d purchased, but I know they were of many different colors. The only thing I hadn’t checked on was whether the bushes were resistant to things such as “black spot”, and “powdery mildew”. We soon found out the hard way that they definitely were not resistant to those things, which sent me scrambling to find information on how in the world to try and rid my new roses of their ugly invaders!
I was able to buy some chemical treatment to use to try and rid the bushes of the “black spot” scourge of a fungal infection, but to no avail. It had set in, and all that both of us could do was watch in horror all summer long, as each bush’s leaves developed those ugly black spots, then fell to the ground, leaving the bushes nearly denuded! I felt so heart sick, and it was all so unbelievable to me! I had just been about to realize a minor dream-come-true, only to have it crushed by a fungal nemesis that I barely knew anything about! By summer’s end, all that was left to do was to pluck up each poor, dead rose bush and toss them all into the trash. The thought of their deaths left me with a very heavy heart, and so sad about it that I decided roses were not the plants for me. I realized I needed to try some much hardier plants next time. Yet, I never realized just how hardy the plants I chose would end up being, much to my surprise, and that of the military base’s golf course gardener!
After the summer’s sad disaster surrounding the demise of all of the new rose bushes, came the onset of autumn. The leaves from the very large, deciduous trees located up on top of a grassy hill out in back of our quarters, began falling–and, falling–until the entire backyard was nearly knee-deep in them. I had wanted the boys to go out there and rake them all up, but my ‘suggestion’ was met with dead silence–didn’t I realize the football games were on?! Oh, of course, how stupid of me! So, I decided to get the rake, and try tackling the leaf-raking myself. With rake in hand, I trudged up the small hill to where the trees were growing, and began there to try and get what amounted to a ton of dead leaves off the hill, and down into our back yard. I raked, and I raked. Took a short break, then raked some more. After doing that for what seemed like forever, I looked around only to find myself knee-deep in dead leaves, with no real progress in sight. I couldn’t believe it! I had worn myself out for what appeared to be nothing! So, dismayed at that, and also a bit fumey over the fact that 3 health males were sitting there in my living room, watching football, oblivious to everything but football, I put away the rake, and decided to let my husband and the boys do that work themselves–that is, if and when they ever got around to it!
Not long after that fiasco involving my raking those leaves took place, the weather became very blustery, and cold, with the wind ‘blowing-a-gale’ all that day, and all night long. I didn’t think much about that really, and when our dog needed to go outside, I must have taken her out front, so I never saw what was taking place out back. That next morning the wind had died down almost completely, so I opened the back door to let our dog out there, and what I saw left me almost speechless. I called to my younger son to come and take a look, and even he couldn’t quite believe his eyes. The day before, the yard had been knee-deep in leaves, yet, somehow, during the night, as the wind blew and blew, ALL of the leaves–and, I mean ALL of them–had been blown into the rose bed! All of the leaves were in a perfect circle, surrounding the poor, dead, or nearly dead, rose bushes, as well as on top of them–it was an incredible sight! No leaves were left around the yard. It looked like someone had been out there raking those leaves all night long, placing them inside the rose bed circle, as neatly as can be–it was mind-boggling! I marvelled at the sight, looking up to heaven with a quick, appreciative glance, daring to thank the Almighty for what so obviously was the impossible!
I don’t think it could have been more than a few days later when the wind kicked up again, and it blew all night long. My husband had told the boys that they needed to get out back and rake all of the leaves that were now inside the rose garden circle, over to the left side of the house, so they could be bagged up. Even though the boys always said “ok”, when their dad told them they needed to do something, I was sure that, inside, they felt more like saying, “Oh, dad, no–that’s too many leaves!” Because, it was a veritable ton of them! Before they could do that, though, the wind had begun to blow hard, so they had to put off doing that until the weather permitted. Well, the next morning, when I opened the back door to let the dog out again, “what, to my wondering eyes” did appear, but all of the leaves–and, I do mean ALL of them–were now completely gone from around the roses.
That would have been astonishing enough, but it’s where they ended up that added to my astonishment. Somehow, that wind had managed to blow them ALL over to where their dad had told the boys to rake them–at the left side of the house! All of those leaves were so neatly placed there that, even if I blinked a million times to get my eyes to focus properly, I still would not have been able to believe what I was seeing! I knew, in my heart, who had done that, too, and I looked again up to heaven, and sheepishly thanked our heavenly Father, because there was just no way He had not been behind both of those extraordinary feats! Why He twice gifted us that way, however, to this day remains a mystery to me. I refer to it as “The miracle of the leaves”, because I can think of no other way to describe it!
By the next spring, after removing all of my poor, hapless, dead rose bushes, I still felt this inner desire to have some kind of a garden. I wracked my brain trying to decide what to plant, with me doing as such research on that subject as I could. I finally hit on what I might be able to plant that might actually be capable of surviving both my inexperience, as well as any pestie fungal infections that might come it’s way–I’d plant trees! Little trees, seedling-sized, or slightly larger. I poured over catalogues selling trees of all types, from Dawn Redwoods, to Weeping Willows, and everything inbetween.
I read all of the descriptions as to exactly what type of soil they preferred, how much sunlight they needed, and even how tall they would grow. Finally, I was able to pick out several small seedlings that I thought would be fun to have. I can only remember now that one had been a fruit tree, probably an apricot tree, and the other one had been a Wisteria tree. At least they were selling it as a tree rather than a vine, but at the time I had no experience with Wisteria at all, in either vine or tree form. It said it was hardy, though, and I definitely needed hardy! The picture of it was so pretty, too, so that helped clinch it for me. I ordered all of the little trees, then waited for them to be delivered by UPS. That was a tough wait!
Once all of the little trees arrived, I eagerly got them into the ground, and gave them some water. Each day I would be sure to give them what I considered enough water, and made sure everything else seemed alright for them. Then, when I’d take our dog out back, I’d sit and look at them all, and daydream about what they would look like once they began to grow and got much bigger. After the disaster of the roses the previous year, I fussed over those little trees as though they were made out of gold! They did very well all summer long, too, which made me so happy! Unfortunately for me, however, I was so short-sighted that I’d forgotten that my husband was about to retire from the military that next spring. So, my promising little tree farm out in the back of our quarters was not destined to be there all that long. Yet, I hadn’t even considered what would become of them all once we moved. Would the next Army family do them justice, and take good care of them?! Oh, how I wished I could take them with us when we moved out, but I just didn’t see how that was possible. The agony of it all–oh, woe!
Finally, moving day for us came, and I busied myself with overseeing the packers as they boxed up our belongings, and loaded them into the truck. My husband finally came to tell me what was going to happen to my little tree garden. He had seen just how much those trees had come to mean to me in the short time I’d had them, so he decided to talk to his friend, who was the gardener for the golf course there on the military base, and tell him about them, and see if he knew of anyone who might want them. Well, he told my husband that he wanted them. That he would simply place them out on the golf course in various spots, because he was always in need of trees and shrubs. So, when my husband told me about that I was so relieved! The gardener and his crew were due to pick up my trees that afternoon, too, so I needn’t worry about them any longer, and that helped me tremendously, since moving was stressful enough all by itself.
Not long after we’d moved off the military base, my husband met up with the base’s golf course gardener, and asked him how my trees were doing. That’s when he was so surprised to hear what his gardener friend told him that he’d found when they went to transfer my trees to the golf course. My husband told me that the man was still marvelling over what they found that day. He told my husband that what surprised them the very most about those little trees was the fact that, somehow, they had all survived, considering that the soil I’d planted them in was nothing more than sand–SAND![?!?] He said something about how is was some sort of miracle that they’d survived, let alone had done as well as they did, and that he thought of it as some kind of miracle that he attributed to me–to me?–who, in my own estimation, is one of the worst, ‘brown-thumb’ gardeners of all time? He told my husband that he thought I must have kept them alive on sheer love alone, since that soil should have killed them off within no time at all, it was so poor. Wow! I couldn’t quite believe it!
So, I chalked it up to yet another awesome deed performed by our heavenly Father, and I again thanked Him, even though I could not fathom any reason why He had done those 3 feats on our/my behalf that way. It was just too, too awesome! And, over the years, my husband’s gardener friend continued to show my husband the progress of at least the Wisteria ‘tree’–he never could figure out exactly where the other trees had been planted, but he did know exactly where my Wisteria was, so that was nice. My husband brought home pictures of the progress the Wisteria had made, which was fun for me. I was just so very grateful that all of my poor, little trees had been rescued, and had been given such a good home on the base’s golf course!
With that, ends the telling of the tiny miracles involving my little plants at our quarters on that particular military base over 25 years ago.
“With rake and seeds and sower,
And hoe and line and reel,
When the meadows shrill with “peeping”
And the old world wakes from sleeping,
Who wouldn’t be a grower
That has any heart to feel?”
~Frederick Frye Rockwell~ “Invitation,” Around the Year in the Garden, 1913
A “White Christmas Knight” Production