Green Hands — "Green Hands"
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Introduction - Published 10 November 2000

My garden is my passion. When I reached menopause, hormone changes interacted with the Multiple Chemical Sensitivities I'd had for a while, resulting in some unusual problems, including chronic pain. Then I discovered that it was much better outdoors. I gave myself permission to spend as much time as I wanted in the garden.

I think beauty is a basic human need, just as much as the need for friends or the need for meaning in our lives. I started gardening for the beauty, for the color and sparkle of plants — to play with the elements of a garden the way a painter plays with paint.

Then I realized that the plants have personalities, too. I talk to my plants (doesn’t every gardener?), and my plants also talk to me. Not in words, or voices, but with their postures, their habits, their response to the environment I give them.

For example My Pitcher’s Sage is sulking right now, because I dared to pinch it back in such a dim, rainy year. It wants sun, sun, sun — and so it hardly bloomed, just made flower buds so late that only a few opened. There are still buds on it in late October, waiting for sun. I really missed that bright, clear blue with no purple in it. How was I to know, when I pinched it back in June, that this was not the year to retard its growth?

People sometimes express surprise that I know names (both common and botanical) of so many plants. It’s because they’re my best friends. We have histories together, from when I first got them. Some from before I got them, like the ‘Ballerina’ hybrid musk rose I finally got this year, after lusting after it for five years, from seeing a photograph. I had to build a whole new section of my garden to create the right conditions for it.

Now that’s a bloomer! It had a dozen buds on it when the little plant arrived in May with three branches not two feet high. Within a month it had tripled its size and had many dozens of its one-inch flowers in sprays all over the plant, bright pink with a white center. And it bloomed all summer!

Chemical sensitivities means I don’t go out any more than I have to. I don’t have a social life. But I have a deeply satisfying relationship with the friends in my garden. My daughter once said I have “green hands, nevermind thumbs.” Maybe it goes farther than hands.

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© Copyright 2000 Catherine Holmes Clark