How My Gardening Mojo Returned When My Children Grew Up

by Megan Rubiner Zinn
Originally Published: 

I lost all interest in gardening the summer my second child was born. Before that, I had been making good progress. I had started with our first house, seven years earlier. I bought books. I figured out how to grow a few things. I learned the names of flowers beyond daisy and lilac. I stopped leaping back from every bug, worm or spider I encountered. I even developed an affection for a gorgeous orange-and-black-striped orb spider that wove a web in our sedum.

We built a raised bed and had an insane crop of cherry tomatoes, learning quickly that we over-planted. Our peonies grew at a rate where we were certain they’d visit us in our sleep. Most notably, I discovered a passion for weeding, or more specifically, yanking things out of the ground. I spent days cutting and pulling and tearing out a bittersweet vine that had entirely engulfed a lilac bush. Oh, it was satisfying.

The birth of the first kid and a move across the country slowed me down, but I kept on gardening. I didn’t have much time, but I was still drawn to it, still anxious to get out there and work and grow. The new house came with a perennial garden that had become feral, so it gave me plenty of weeding to do. I’d squeeze in time during naps and tried to coax the toddler outside with me. I’d get overzealous with the yanking, inadvertently pulling out a young peony plant and a bunch of grape hyacinth. I blamed it on my easily addled mom brain.

In the summer of 2002, as we waited for my second boy to arrive, my mother planted a black-eyed Susan in the middle of the perennial garden. And that was that—the last new thing that went in for years. Theo arrived mid-summer, so that gardening season was effectively shot. I figured I’d get back to it the following year, but it didn’t happen. My gardening mojo was gone. I had no interest. Each spring, I’d think to myself that I’d finally get ahead of the weeds this year, but my weeding would be half-hearted, when I had a minute or two, here and there. Accidental weeding, I called it. I still loved my flowers when they bloomed, with no help from me. The daffodils still came up in the spring, the orange day lilies announced themselves on the first day of summer, like clockwork, and the dark pink Asiatic lilies never failed to take my breath away. Every once and awhile, I’d think about getting a few mums in the ground in the fall, and then suddenly it would be November, and snowing.

My husband took up some of the gardening mantel. He started planting edibles, willy-nilly, around the yard. Not one for straight rows and circumscribed spaces, he’d plant some snap peas along one fence, and some cucumbers on the other side of the yard. The side of the house made a nice space for the tomatoes and the failed attempt at edamame. A blackberry bush started growing in the corner of the yard—probably a gift from a pooping bird—and he decided to let it go. It’s now a crazy morass, but it does produce a ton of good, if seedy, berries. The little guy—the one who stole my mojo in the first place—took to helping him and convinced him to grow things that we’d never be good at—like the ill-fated melons. I never knew what they planted, and it was always a delightful surprise to see what popped up. The only thing I managed to plant every year, without fail, was basil. I hadn’t lost all vestiges of civilization, after all.

For years, I assumed there was something wrong with me. I never thought I was very good at being an adult, and my unkempt gardens and yard seemed to be yet another sign of my failure. Before I became a mom, I had imagined I’d enjoy staying home with my kids. I’d have long lazy days of playing with them, cooking lovely foods, and patiently teaching them how to nurture the plants around our perfect little home. None of this happened. They didn’t want to hang out in the garden. I wasn’t very good at playing with toddlers. No matter what I cooked, they’d only eat noodles and Cheerios. What free time I had, I wanted to spend working, reading and having adult conversations.

Clearly, I have only so much ability to nurture and grow living things, and two boys is my limit. And a dog. Sometimes a husband. After that, everything—especially the garden—has to fend for itself. (We don’t have houseplants either).

But now my boys are adolescents, and they need me in a different way. They need my company, my help and guidance, and they need me as an audience. They need me to make them food and yell them out of bed in the morning. The days of their all-encompassing demands for my mental and physical energy are suddenly gone.

This spring, 13 years later, the mojo returned without warning. I decided to clean the siding on the garden side of the house before the hostas made that impossible. I started to notice the weeds beginning to pop, even though the snow had barely disappeared. I began pulling, determined to get to as many weeds as possible before the lilies-of-the valley and the ferns took over. With the weeds gone, there were bare spots and I wanted more plants. A friend shared several with me, and I got them into the ground before they died. Well, one died. Next thing you know, I’m prepping new beds, contemplating annuals, dropping cash at the garden store, and fantasizing about the bulbs I’ll plant in the fall.

The black-eyed Susan, which I always thought of as Theo’s plant, is gone now. Either it ran its course or it got over-stomped by boys or yanked out in a flurry of accidental gardening. This year, I’ll plant another. I hope to keep it alive until I have grandkids.

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