Kathryn Hall’s Plant Whatever Brings You Joy is a collection of 52 tender stories and essays, each titled with a life lesson Kathryn has learned from gardening. Here’s one the book shares…about creating beauty.
After three years of traveling and living in Europe, my daughter and I returned home to the States, and I began my fledgling publicity business. I took a couple of offices in the Marin County seat in Northern California, at the back of a building on the main drag of downtown. There was a metal stairwell at the back end of the hall that led into a small and bare concrete courtyard, fenced in by hurricane fencing. I would look out through my back window into this barren area and cringe when, on occasion, a local vagrant would find a place to sit outside the fence nursing something in a paper bag. This situation was not savory or attractive. What could I do?
I descended the fire staircase into the courtyard and surveyed it carefully. Weeds jutted randomly in cracks in the cement. There was not much to work with, but surely I could do something. Right?
I stepped through the heavy metal gate into the small parking lot and poked futilely with my finger in the narrow margin of dirt along the fence line that had somehow escaped being covered with blacktop, and a teeny spark of hope and imagination kindled. A little smile crept across my lips as I began to think of seeds.
Inspired, I went to the nursery and purchased morning glory seeds. I had developed a deep and abiding fondness for the blue morning glories which used to climb up on my deck when I lived for many years in Sausalito, facing the San Francisco Bay. Who would not appreciate their charming beauty and abundance? Suddenly I was envisioning a wall of morning glories covering that back fence, creating a screen from the commercial lot into which I looked, and thinking what a boon (and surprise!) it would be for anyone whose steps crossed that area.
Excited, I brought the seeds home and soon was out there poking around with a gardening tool on the outside of the fence, in that narrow ridge of hope. I pushed in the trowel. Thump. What was that? You might imagine the deflating impact it had on me when I realized that just under a couple of inches of dirt was the extended dreaded blacktop.
I was crushed, and I cursed a society that covered up every inch of possibility with asphalt.
The next morning I gazed dejectedly out the small office window at the wretched fence and courtyard and relayed my story to a friend on the phone.
“Yes. That’s right. Blacktop. Do you believe it? And I was so excited. My morning glories would have been so pretty. And the only thing I can think of is to find someone with a jackhammer to get through that stuff, unlikely as that is. I can’t do it on my own.”
Just at that very moment my gaze moved a little farther beyond the fence to the opposite side of the private parking lot. Along the edge of the lot were four men, four strong men doing some kind of repair work—with jackhammers!
Immediately my spirits soared as I realized the opportunity that the Universe was placing directly before me!
“Justine? I have to go. You won’t believe this, but there are a bunch of guys out there working on the lot with jackhammers!”
I flung open the back door and rushed down the stairs, all smiles. I knew without a doubt they were my heroes!
I approached one of the men, smiling.
“Hi! Is your boss here?”
“My boss?” the man answered, confused.
“Yeah, your boss. Is he here by any chance?”
The man indicated a man off to the side, whom I had not seen, and I immediately moved toward him, grinning.
“Hi. I know this is going to sound crazy, but do you have a minute? Can I show you something?”
Reluctantly the man followed me to the fence. I poured out my story with all the passion I felt.
“See?” I concluded, poking my finger in the ground and looking up at him imploringly. “Is there any possibility your men could open this up for me? Just an inch here and there? Just enough to get in a seed? Please?”
The blessed man heard my plea. Without another word, he walked back to his crew and spoke with the men, pointing in my direction. I was thrilled! I went back upstairs to ring Justine and tell her of my good fortune, watching the men from the window with their marvelous jackhammers, opening up the field of possibility. I was witnessing a miracle for which I gave hearty thanks, and I ran back down and beamed at the men as they obligingly dug my holes. Five minutes of work; a summer’s pleasure.
Over the next weeks, my morning glories sprouted and wound their faithful way up the cyclone fence, lending inch by inch the grace of their steadfast beauty. I fussed over them daily, training their tendrils upward.
I took the greatest pleasure in beginning my workday out there within my new and unexpected garden, taking note of any new growth, as I sprayed a gentle stream of glistening water onto their lovely emerging faces.
Spring into summer, I would grin and nod at passersby who witnessed the slow and steady transformation, acknowledging with them “what a difference it was going to make.” By summer’s end, the sweet morning glories bursting from their lovely green vines had fully covered the cyclone fence from one end to the other. Their precious splendor spilled over the top and back down again, filling in the vapid unimaginative space with the blessing promised in a bit of creativity, determination, and the goodheartedness of a few good men willing to indulge in a vision.
Reprinted with the permission of the author from PLANT WHATEVER BRINGS YOU JOY, copyright © 2010 by Kathryn Hall (www.estrellacatrina.com.) To order, contact us.
This article was published originally in 2016, in GreenPrints Issue #108.