My sister landscapes. She buys flowers in hanging baskets and plants others in whiskey barrels and mulch. Her yard is beautiful. Tidy and colorful, blooming from spring to fall.
I love dandelions. I refuse to call them weeds. I am happiest when the lawn is overgrown and the grass covered with constellations of tiny suns. They are fiercely yellow. I imagine them brave and defiant. If you mow us, they say, we will only come back in greater force. Go ahead, spread our seed for us with your blades. Our roots are deep. We will return. I can respect that.
The only cultivated flower I love is the rose. Roses are more than they seem. Their buds are neat and symmetrical, but when they open and bloom, they are a tangle of petals, a snarl of passionate red. I can respect that, too.
When we bought our house, there were rose bushes everywhere. The little old lady who lived here before us had planted several kinds, strategically planned so as one bush faded the next was just coming into bloom. She had made sure she would always have roses. The bushes were as tall as I was, and thorny. Unwieldy and unkempt. I planned to read up on them, to learn how to tend them and prune them. I wanted to keep them alive.
My husband disliked the rose bushes. They got in the way when he mowed and sprawled out against the wall of the garage. One by one, he dug them up and threw them away.
I kept quiet about the roses until I saw him uprooting the last of the bushes. No, I cried, please. Leave me just one. But it was too late. The roots were out of the ground. I wanted that, I told him. He was sorry, he said, he didn’t realize. He took one stalk of the bush and stuck it in the ground behind the house, just outside my kitchen window. Let’s see if it grows, he said.
For the first several years, it struggled. I would look out my window as I washed dishes and count the blossoms, never more than two, maybe three. He wanted to pick them for me and bring them inside. No, I told him. Leave them. I don’t want them dead.
Last summer was hard. My heart felt like grass cut too short, burnt dry and brown in the sun. But my roses rallied for me. Each day it seemed their number doubled. I lost count of the blossoms at thirty eight. They blazed red in the grass like a burning bush, a message of hope from God. Cut us down, they laughed, uproot us. Hide us among the weeds. But we will grow. Not just grow. We will thrive.
Flowerbeds lay waiting alongside our house. Beds made for pansies and peonies, ground-hugging flowers of purple and pink. I preferred to leave them empty. You should get some flowers, my sister told me. They would look so nice. My husband agreed.
So last spring I bought a giant bag of wildflower seed and dumped it in the dirt. It wasn’t what they had in mind, but I wanted to see what would grow. What grew was perfect. It was surprising and random and wild. Nothing predicted or planned, just spontaneous and colorful, new and alive.
It’s messy, they said.
I love it, I said. And I meant it.
It’s winter now, but I’m eager for spring. This frozen whiteness will sink into the ground, watering the tenacious roots of that which is waiting to bloom. I can’t wait to see the first of my perennials, the dandelions, emerging laughing from the mud. We’re back, they’ll say, and I will say Good for you! My wildflowers will surprise me with what comes first. Maybe it will be lupines or Queen Anne’s lace, followed by brown eyed Susans, goldenrod, or asters. Most of all, I’m waiting to stand before my window, wrist deep in dishwater, to count my roses one by one.
This summer will be different. This summer I will be ready. I will see the beauty when it comes.