Last January, between storms, I sat in my soggy yard dividing iris rhizomes. Yeah I know I should’ve done this last fall, but the kind of gardener I am precludes adherence to any strict dogma, dictum or rules. My motto: “get it planted and it will bloom...eventually.”
I live in a very quiet town, Fort Jones in Scott Valley, west of Yreka. I was immersed in my thoughts, which is what gardening is meant for, when a grown-up kid from the neighborhood sauntered up. He seemed a little at loose ends so I invited him to sit down on the soggy earth to dig and divide iris rhizomes with me. He called them bulbs which is fine because that’s what I call them. I only call them “rhizomes” in this article because the startle reflex of every serious gardener in the State of Jefferson would kick in if I used the incorrect term. Some time ask me about Canadian Geese.
So the kid and I are digging, dividing and talking and after awhile he doesn’t seem so lost and sad. I told him about the guy who gave me the original irises—Mr. Brochard. We were living in Eureka then, had three small children and were juggling college, work and a house that real estate agents called a fixer upper but what our two-year old more accurately termed it, “Broke House.” Talk about stress. I had stopped by Mr. Brochard’s home one day as he was dividing his irises and he gave me a box of the rhizomes to plant in my yard, at Broke House. He took one look at the two baby seats in my car and said, “Give those back to me. I’ll be over this weekend to plant them for you.” When we moved to Fort Jones, I dug up a box of those same irises and planted them in my new yard. Every year they bloom and I think of him.
The yard is full of memories of other gardeners and other times. Shortly after we moved to Fort Jones, a tall, graceful woman walked by our new home with a cardboard box brimming with plants. She saw me in the garden, hacking away at chicory and Marlahan Mustard and asked me if I’d like the box of cuttings and plants she was carrying. She was thinning her garden and knew some other yard would gladly embrace her overflow. I was grateful for the bounty and also for the variety of plants which included succulents, violets and daisies. As she helped me plant that day, we talked and discovered we were both musicians. For many years we shared music and plants. When she died a couple years ago, her plants bloomed the following spring reminding me of the literal meaning of the phrase, “as ye sow, so shall ye reap.” Each spring and summer, when those succulents, daisies and violets bloom, I think of Sue.
Scott Valley has a Rock Garden Society that holds a plant sale every year. For many years it was held in Jeanette’s beautiful garden. She was an enthusiastic woman and well into her seventies when I met her. She introduced herself and wanted to know all about me as we wandered through the plant sale. She told me about every plant and encouraged me to buy plants with whimsical names like trillium, Penstemon, and Claytonia. I bought some Flax and Phlox, both of which come up every year and their beautiful flowers make me think of Jeanette and remember her enthusiasm and kindness.
There are two huge and incredibly symmetrical Coastal Redwood trees in front of the Etna Methodist Church. Every time I pass that church I think I can’t be the only person who quietly blesses the folks who planted and tended those trees decades ago. Today they are magnificent, reminding us more about God’s grandeur than anything man could make.
My sister Mary has given me rose cuttings from her yard in McKinleyville, some of which have taken and are now hearty bushes here in Scott Valley. There’s a Pioneer Rose climbing on the back fence, a present from Leann, and when neighbor Judy’s garden was being overrun by volunteer seedling trees she gave us several little maple, apple and juniper starts that now dot our yard. I have bulbs from Elsie, hens and chickens from Charlotte, rhubarb from Mrs. Veeman. Every plant reminds me of the giver and every time I am reminded of the giver, I am filled with a kind of joy. Even after death, these gardeners continue to make their impact on the living, every spring with every blossom.
At Broke House, we planted a tree when each of the children were born. We still own that house and enjoy seeing how fruitful those trees have become. Sally’s Santa Rosa Plum was planted too close to the house but even with heavy pruning, still puts out masses of fruit each year. Henry and Mae’s apple trees are sturdy and fruitful, too. I encourage everyone to plant a tree in honor of a birth. The years fly by and it’s lovely to see the tree and the kid grow, change and, eventually—though not before college, cross fingers— bear fruit.
I now give away plants...many siblings and friends have some of Mr. Brochard’s divided irises and Sue’s daisies and Jeanette’s flax.
When the neighbor kid I mentioned earlier gets settled somewhere in his life, I will give him a box of iris bulbs (sic) and, if his life is too chaotic to get them planted, I’ll go over to his house and plant them for him. At this point in my life, I see that Mr. Brochard was getting a lot more out of our plant deal than I knew at that time. Back then I was a grateful recipient of kindness and now I have a chance to return that kindness...to the next crop of gardeners who will reap what I sow.