A Slow Bloomer

How I learned my first lesson in Southern gardening.

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ILLUSTRATIONS BY MARILYNNE ROACH

I was born and raised in the dry country of Northern California. When we moved into our new home in Sharpsburg, Georgia, I was completely ignorant of Southern flora. I was mesmerized by the tall pines and thick woods that surrounded our yard. I especially loved the Japanese maple right outside my kitchen window, its colors transforming from burgundy to gold throughout the day.

The most dull, scraggly bushes I had ever seen were, like the maple, right outside the kitchen window. Indeed, they lined the front of the yard. Each day as I washed the dishes or watched the children play in the yard, I basked in the beauty of the lush green woods and the radiant Japanese maple, while cursing the unkempt bushes at the front of the yard. I decided that they had to go.

Ignorance and stubbornness? Not a good combination.

My chance came when James knocked on the door. James was the neighborhood handyman, often wandering door to door looking for odd jobs. I had a job for him!

“Would you please take out those awful bushes?” I pleaded.

“Are you sure?” James countered.

“Absolutely!” I replied. “No doubt about it.”

So James set about the task of uprooting ten of the most drab bushes I had ever seen. At one point he came to me to ask what he should do with them.

“Oh, just throw them into the woods on the side of the house,” I replied smugly. There is a sense of pride in knowing what you want and making it happen, and I fully felt that pride.

After James had done the job and was on his merry way, Ms. Cawthon, a sweet elderly lady who lived across the street, came to my door. She and Alice, my next-door neighbor, had seen the great job I had paid James to complete. Timidly, she mentioned that she had noticed the bushes discarded in the woods and asked if she might have them. Puzzled, I told her she was welcome to them. Then I watched as she and Alice foraged through the woods for the bushes, divided them between themselves, and immediately set about planting them in their own yards!

Months went by. The bush episode faded in my memory. Fall came in all its glory, and orange and yellow leaves covered the yard. Winter had its heyday, even providing a couple of snow days for the children to enjoy. When the ground finally warmed in Spring, the yard began to come alive. Daffodils sprang up first. Next, small white blossoms formed on the dogwoods, looking like lace among the pines. Then something happened to the scruffy bushes in my neighbors’ yards. Buds formed—then burst forth in broad swaths of brightness. Each bush was covered with pure white or dark pink flowers.

Azaleas!!

At that moment I received an instant Southern education on the importance of those scraggly bushes. I now understood that the magnificence of their springtime show makes the year-long wait worth every second.

Today I gaze admiringly at those wonderful bushes in my neighbors’ yards, constant reminders of my rash ignorance. Sometimes, seeing them makes me feel a little scraggly myself, at least when it comes to gardening in the South.

I’ll have to use those azaleas as inspiration. I can be a great bloomer too.

I’ll just be like them—a little slow at getting around to it.


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