Peonies Not Included

No winter lasts forever; no spring skips its turn. ~Hal Borland

Many years ago, we moved into this house in February, perhaps the ugliest and most dismal month in our part of Pennsylvania. At only twenty-five, I was awfully young to move on to this cul-de-sac filled with families of five and couples approaching retirement. I felt like a kid pretending to be a grown-up, and I relished my new role as lady of the manor.

My first order of business was to purchase flowers, but my husband Ed smartly insisted we wait and see what came up first before just diving in. The real estate literature for this house stated “Peonies not included.” These were the days before Google, and my dictionary was still packed away somewhere. I hoped peonies meant those ugly floral valances found in almost every room. Fine, I thought, please keep them.

I have always loved flowers, but being from city folk, I’ve never been much of a naturally skilled gardener. Everything I’ve learned about gardening was learned from my husband. I’ll admit, I was resistant at first. Dirty fingernails and worms and a sore back? No thank you. Can’t I just pick out the flowers and have someone else plant them? Not when you marry for love, you can’t.

Admittedly, it has taken me years to finally enjoy the manual labor called gardening. I used to feel terribly resentful of all the work involved. Part of it, too, was that I had young children to care for, so gardening was just one more needy thing on my list to feed and water. As my children grew and became more self sufficient, I found that I actually enjoyed the nurturing and somewhat fussy nature of gardening. Funny how we’re always seeking balance but rarely realize it until we look back.

Our first spring and summer here was filled with beautiful discoveries. Every week seemed to bring us new and unexpected presents: crocuses, pansies, daffodils, tulips, irises, roses, wisteria, strawberries, azalea, dogwood, rhododendron and eventually these large, beautiful, snowball-like fragrant flowers called peonies. Now that I knew what peonies were, I was very glad some were inadvertently left behind.

Spring has always been my favorite season, probably because I have a May birthday, and from my earliest days I associated spring with presents for me, me, me! Later on in life I associated spring with cute clothes and sandals, school’s final months, and impending summer vacation. Today spring represents the act of reclaiming and beautifying our yard and moving our Inside Life to Outside Life. Whatever stage of life I was in, springtime represented the rebirth of everything good.

I have had a good life, but it has not always been an easy life. Like many humans, I have suffered heartbreak, illness, loss of loved ones, tyrannical bosses, betrayal, loneliness, uncertainty, worries, unfairness, long lines, incorrect cable bills, and sleepless nights. It’s very easy sometimes to believe the current situation will never change, and we’ll be stuck where we are forever.

It’s no wonder that both Passover and Easter occur in springtime; it’s when the magic happens. Life is dark and dismal and slushy and full of despair, and then one day, the birds and flowers appear again. You know intellectually that things are supposed to eventually tweet and bloom again (because nature) but it still seems impossible some days. Like, maybe this year it will be different? Maybe spring will be canceled or skipped? Silly as it sounds, on those darkest days, a person might believe it possible.

Seeing that first patch of green after a long winter is uplifting and miraculous. If this ground once covered with many inches of snow and ice and dead plants is now alive and growing, then there is hope for us all, even a know-it-all twenty-five year old new homeowner who doesn’t know a peony from a curtain rod. Every year the trees grow taller, the flowers bloom again, and I discover something new to love in this old house of mine.