Last October, my grandparents' bulb garden by the garage had to be dug up to make room for the construction project. I couldn't bear the thought of losing that piece of family history, so I spent several hours on hands and knees, sifting through the huge dirt piles for bulbs. I found hundreds of them, in various sizes and conditions. Some were so old and rotted that they fell apart in my hands, but many were firm and tight and full of life. I felt like a one-person special ops team carrying out a vital rescue mission.
After loading the salvaged bulbs into buckets, I tried my hand at the Bobcat, the little skid steer tractor thing that we have on site to help with our big projects. All I needed to learn was how to scoop up a big bucket full of dirt and move it from place to place. With some pointers from Andy and a little practice, I could do it fairly efficiently. I moved the dirt from the garden over to its new location by the graceful little cherry tree, dumping load after load there and then finally shaping it into a sloping crescent-shaped mound with a rake and hoe.
Then it was time to go shopping, for this garden was intended to honor more than one grandma. The back bone would be the bulbs, mostly tulips, that were already on the property, in honor of my Grandma Smith, who, along with my grandpa, originally settled this wild piece of land and made a home here for generations to come. But I intended to add to it, to cram this new garden full of all kinds of other wonderful bulbs, all the varieties that Andy's mom, my kids' beloved Grandma Judy, loved the most.
She had been so looking forward to gardening in Montana, particularly for the bulbs. Back in Santa Barbara, California, she had meticulously dug up her bulbs each Fall and stored them in the freezer, faking a cold snap, then replanted them each Spring. They were her treasures.
So last October, I sat down with her, sick as she was, her body already starting to succumb to the ravages of her cancer, and we studied a catalogue of bulbs together. We discussed various elements of a good garden--color, season, height, foliage--but then in the end decided to go with a fairly wild look, loosely organized and free.
She was too weak to go to the nursery with me, so I went alone, realizing I would probably never get to go browse a nursery with her, as I had so looked forward to when they first moved to the area. I cried a little as I sifted through the assortment, looking for the brightest and most beautiful varieties, the flowers that would honor her memory the best. The sadness was mingled with such beauty, knowing that this little garden would be such a source of comfort to the family in the years to come. The owner of the nursery asked if she could help me with anything and I told her about my project. As it turns out, she had planted a similar garden for her own mother when she was dying of cancer just the year before. We cried together, this stranger and I.
The next day was as sunny and as warm as could be hoped for in October. Mom bundled up and I brought her out to the yard to sit on the garden bench with a blanket. She directed the process and watched as I dug little holes and dropped in the bulbs. Eventually, she gathered her energy and joined me. We worked side by side in the October sunshine, our fingers in the rich, warm earth. She talked optimistically about seeing the little green shoots, then gorgeous flowers, come Spring. I worked hard to share her enthusiasm.
A month later, she was gone.
We knew it would be a long winter, in more ways than one. It snowed steadily, the day of her funeral and burial, and we are well above average for our snowfall totals for the season. The grieving has been laborious and, at times, intense. The frozen mound of dirt under the barren cherry tree hasn't looked like anything more than just that--a frozen mound of dirt.
I couldn't write about Grandma's garden in October, when it was planted. But I can write about it now, because yesterday, just yesterday, Andy noticed little green shoots poking their heads through the mound of dirt. They are everywhere.
And last night, Andy dreamed of his mom. She was vibrant and healthy and strong, full of smiles and hugs and warmth. In his dream, she had just stopped by for a visit, but they were able to spend some precious time together, short as it was. He awoke weeping, but grateful.
It is snowing again this morning, big and heavy flakes trying to cover the now thawed landscape, melting on the backs and faces of the dogs.
The Winter hasn't yet passed, but Spring is coming.