To Grow Where You’re Planted

To Grow Where You’re Planted May 17, 2024


A light red sunflower of the species "pink lemonade"
image via Pixabay

I’d meant to work in the garden all day, but I kept having to run errands.

First I had to pick up Adrienne from school, where they had celebrated the upcoming end of the school year with a Color Run, with all the teachers spraying the students with powdered dye. She got in the car with neon pink residue all over her t-shirt, and left it smeared on the passenger seat. I joked that it was the first pink she’d worn in at least five years.

Next, I had to take the Baker Street Irregulars to their orchestra rehearsal– they are learning to play the violin, and the church downtown is hosting a summer recital. The Little Mite, the one who saw God after the car accident, is starting middle school next year. She chatted with me about how excited she was at fifth grade orientation all the way to the church.

Then I had to take Michael to the laundromat with two baskets of soaking wet clothes, and pick him up an hour later with two baskets of dry folded clothes. Jimmy the Mechanic is still too busy with all his other work to fix our dryer. By the time the guinea pig and I got out to the garden, it was only a bit before sunset.

Lady McFluff went under her laundry basket to graze, right next to the strawberry patch. Strawberry leaves are her favorite, so I put the basket down messily over the plants that were encroaching on the lawn. If I had a flock of guinea pigs, they could do all the edging for me.

I examined the volunteer sunflowers first. I left my sunflower plants to dry out standing up in the garden last year, because I loved the birds that would visit them; then I composted the dead flowers and long stalks. In April, I spread the compost over the garden, and in early May I found sunflower seedlings growing among my pea plants. Nine of them were easy to move to the north side of the patch, where their shadows won’t shade anything. I transplanted them last week, where they drooped over and I was afraid I’d killed them, but eight sunflowers rose again. I’m not sure of the species yet– probably lemon queen or autumn beauty. Time will tell. I got on my hands and knees to inspect the ground, where I found that the first of the Mammoth Gray Stripe seeds I planted at the corners of the garden have also sprouted. They are the kind of sunflower that can get twelve feet tall, towering over the others, with eyes as big as turkey platters. When I grew them two years ago, I had one as big as a tree and three that were only six feet. I looked closer, and there were the first tiny seedlings of the other sunflower seeds I’d planted among the volunteers, just barely poking up above the ground. Those are a mix, all about five feet tall– strawberry blond, ruby eclipse, more lemon queen and autumn beauty. I’m going to plant a pack of seeds every two weeks to get a continual rainbow wall of blossoms until frost, then leave them out all winter for the birds.

I looked up and saw one of Adrienne’s school friends wandering around the side of the house– gangly, shirtless, reminding me of Huckleberry Finn.  He is the grandson of the Lady of LaBelle, the only boy. He’s been Adrienne’s friend for half her life.

“What are these?”

“These are sunflowers.”

“What’s the guinea pig doing?”

“She’s eating the strawberry leaves. How was school?”

“I got suspended for the rest of the year, for fighting,” said Huckleberry Finn.

“You shouldn’t have done that. Why were you fighting?”

“He called me a cracker.”

It was all I could do not to laugh.

Adrienne and Huckleberry Finn went to play football in the alley, leaving me with Lady McFluff.

I got on my hands and knees again, this time by the little pea patch where the last few sunflowers were tangled in the vines. I dug, as best I could, using the little spade that Jimmy’s Boy gave me. I bent the stem as gently as I could to get the plant free from the pea trellis. Finally, I held the whole thing, roots and all, in my hand. I quickly moved the sunflower to the north side of the garden and buried the roots in soil; then I gave it a good long drink from my pitcher of water.

I went back to the pea patch to rescue the other sunflower. This one is very close to the winter squash my compost gave me. I don’t know what kind it is. But Adrienne threw her jack-o-lantern and its innards on the compost last year, so it may be a pumpkin.  I’ve never had any success with winter squash before because the growing season is too short, but this one had a head start on me. It might stand a chance where the others failed.

As I performed my careful surgery to remove the sunflower from the peas, I noticed that some of the other weeds growing around the pea patch weren’t weeds. I’d composted the big bushy kale plants and the messy tomato vines last year, and my compost had returned me two baby kale plants and two volunteer tomatoes.

That’s the thing about gardening– proper gardening; organic, permaculture gardening. There comes a point where you stop fighting nature, and nature gives you gifts.

I heard a sound from the strawberries and jumped up with a start. Somehow, Lady McFluff had butted her way out of the laundry basket prison and was happily feasting on hard green strawberries. I chased her for a moment and scooped her back into the basket.

I went back to the sunflower in the pea patch– the sunflower I hadn’t planted but was given to me, here in the place where I thought I could never be happy.

Kneeling there with a sunflower seedling in my hand, I felt the grief wash over me again. I missed everything I’d lost forever: my naivete. My family. My faith, not in God but in the hierarchy and religious orders of the institutional Catholic Church. My hopes and dreams of finishing graduate school and becoming a bioethicist. My hope for love and a happy Catholic homeschooling family with a gaggle of devout children. My expectation that we’d eventually find a supportive parish and a clique of proper Catholic friends. My dream of joining the Byzantine Catholic Church and buying that house behind the parish. My fantasies of somehow relocating to Pittsburgh or Columbus for a fresh start. All gone.

In their place was me.

I realized that I had stopped fighting. I wasn’t the things I had fought to be. I was only myself.

Beneath the grief, buried like a sunflower seed in compost, was another feeling. I think it might be happiness.

I planted that seedling on the north side of the garden, and watered it.

I believed in God, more deeply than I ever had in my life. And what’s more, I believed God was good.



Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.

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