How Does Your Garden Grow?



EDITOR’S NOTE: Last Saturday, Florence Marigold Evanow went to be with Jesus. She was so close to our hearts. Dear Lovelys, would you join us in praying for Michaela and her family? Florence’s Celebration of Life is tomorrow. If you would like to make a donation to her Memorial Fund, you can do so here

The year I first planted a garden was the year we were told our baby daughter had Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA): an incurable, deadly, neuromuscular disease.

I was literally elbow deep in dirt when I got the phone call from the doctor.

I carry with me a deeply rooted memory. I was on my knees, sweating under the June or July sun, with the crackling baby monitor clipped to my hip, when I felt my phone buzzing in my back pocket. It was the start of summer. I can’t remember when—but I believe it was June. Unlike many folks who have Diagnosis Day written on their calendars, I’ve tried to blot out this date from my memory, from my life. I carry things for a long while, and I never wanted to carry this number and month. Little did I know that the memory would resurface every spring, and in each pocketful of seeds.

It was my first real garden, and it was in our lush backyard: a beautiful raised bed garden previously tended to by an Italian neighbour. After he passed away, I reluctantly assumed responsibility of this vast plot of dirt. I planted three weeks after giving birth to my daughter, even though my body ached. I was determined to have fresh food for the summer.

Much of that garden ended up rotting: instead of harvesting, I watched the greens fade and the zucchinis grow large and inedible. I abandoned it. My heart could not handle the rich, fertile landscape. I realized with terror that life keeps blooming, even when my own life was being cut back to a tiny nub.

But in that unblemished, innocent moment, I was filled with pride and hope when I looked at my garden. All of my vegetables were poking up out of the ground. Some, like the pearl potatoes, were coming up early. I was harvesting them as my phone rang. I stuffed as many as I could into my cotton peasant shirt and picked up the hems while showing off my soft, postpartum belly to the neighbours. I ran inside with the phone pressed to my damp ear while talking to the doctor. I released the potatoes into the sink and scattered specks of dirt onto the kitchen floor. My hands were caked with sticky dirt, and as I was scrubbing them clean, the doctor told me she had the results from the test. I knew they didn’t tell patients horrible things over the phone, but I could tell by the tone of her voice that she had very awful news for me.

My voice became guttural then, and I moaned, “Tell me. Just tell me.”

She did and I remember crumpling to the floor. I felt the thick, hoarse wail fill my lungs, like phlegm. I remember frantically calling my husband, my parents, my in laws—no one answered. I finally got a hold of my dad first, “She has it, she has it. My baby has it.”

The memory ends here. I don’t remember much else.

But I keep coming back to the garden: the innocent, hard work of pulling weeds and tending to vegetables. Before the Ache. Before the trauma.

I’m a messy, unprepared gardener. I’ve discovered that I enjoy dumping seeds into the ground and hoping for the best. What grows easily? What takes work? What succumbs to pests? What flourishes in the Pacific Northwest?

I experiment with different varieties and vegetables every year, but one thing remains constant: I line my garden with marigolds. They are magnificent at repelling bugs and slugs, and their spicy, sweet scent and vibrant orange petals charm the socks off me. Every year, I plant them in a row and stare proudly at my little marigolds.

And every year, I think of my big Marigold girl, and how I want a thousand marigold blossoms at her celebration of life service. I usually kick myself at this point, fearing that if I think on these things, then they will surely come to pass. And what good, God-fearing mother even goes there?

Welcome to the confusing, complicated world of raising a child with a terminal disease while believing in a God that can do all things.

This year, I have another large garden plot to fill in our new home. I’ve already planted parsley, strawberries, swiss chard, purple carrots, beets, red cabbage, leeks, cheddar cauliflower, mustard spinach and broccoli. In a few days, I’ll dig into the earth and open up space for calendula, wax beans, cumin, cinnamon basil and yellow zucchini.

Every day, I check on my garden and diligently tend to each row. I pull out weeds and toss the grub over the fence. In the past, I’ve watched plants succumb to disease and pests. I’ve let others overgrow. This year, I’m particularly protective of my garden. I find comfort in the pruning. Out there, I find solace in between rows.

I see the rich symbolism in all of it. I see my daughter’s face in the petals. I no longer avoid the dirt and even the worms. I garden with bare feet and hands, relishing the cool, damp earth on my skin. I wear a wide brim sun hat from Anthropologie, far too glamorous for the backyard. I am happy here in this once fallow landscape.

Although the garden once broke my heart, I keep going back to the familiar landscape. I keep getting my hands dirty. I keep growing food. This year, my eyes welled with tears when I saw the spinach sprouts. I know my healthy son will chomp on those greens. I’ll roast him beets and grill zucchini wedges for his little fingers. I’ll feed him. And I’ll fill myself.

I’ll till this land and mend my heart out here, under the watchful eyes of the bright, golden Sun.

A note from Michaela: Florence Marigold Evanow: March 7, 2012—May 9, 2015. Florence is free to dance, run, and walk. She met her sweet Jesus. She fought so hard but she was very tired. She taught us what true bravery is. You changed the world, my Marigold girl.

We will be planting marigolds for the rest of our lives. I will whisper her name when I see these blossoms.  Many of you have already planted marigolds in her honour, all over the world. I never want to forget that! So we are starting a hashtag, to keep track of all these blooms.

If you plant marigolds snap a photo and post it to Instagram or Facebook using this tag below: #FlorenceMarigoldinBloom

I know I’ll be checking every day. It gives me so much comfort and joy.