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Dear Friend and Gardener

Bonnie Kate’s Wedding

On this Valentine’s Day I’d like to share the story of daughter bonnie Kate’s wedding, a chapter from my book The Roses at the End of the Road.

Illustration by Henry Leuchtman

Illustration by Henry Leuchtman

Bonnie Kate’s Wedding 

      Our daughter Kate was never much interested in the garden, but when I planted the first roses in 1981 and laid out the plan for the Rose Walk, she did express a romantic desire to be married amid the roses. On a June Sunday in 1994 it came to pass.

Like Adam and Eve who began their life in a garden, Kate and her beloved Greg stood with family and friends behind them, with roses and broccoli in front of them, and promised to be loving and faithful, in plenty and in want, in sickness and in health and in joy and in sorrow.

The minister, who is a friend and neighbor, asked the assembled guests if we would do what was necessary to support this new marriage.

Certainly many people had already done what they could to make the wedding beautiful. Neighbors had mowed the lawn, cleaned the house, brought barbecue grills and flowers and salmon mousse.  Kate’s siblings had built flower boxes, laid the stone terrace, trimmed and weeded and bought new clothes. So many people had promised aid and comfort – and they all delivered. No one forgot or failed. It was a miracle of love and generosity.

So having put hearts and hands to work for the wedding, we willingly pledged to support the marriage.

At least a few of the guests were experienced gardeners as well as experienced husbands and wives, and I expect they were already thinking of the supports that might be needed. Certainly newlyweds, like new gardeners, need encouragement along with a calming hand on the shoulder as the mysteries of growth unfold.

Gardens don’t always turn out as expected. There are inexplicable failures. Seeds don’t germinate,  blight  attacks the tomatoes, and delphiniums wither and die when you absolutely know you fertilized and staked just the way the book said.

Fortunately there are also those unexpected joys and bonuses. Cauliflower succeeds even though you heard it was really hard to grow, or an interesting sedum comes in on the root of the bee balm. Who knew it was there? Who knew such a pretty thing existed? Who knew it would love your soil?

Of course, each failure, each success, each surprise means the garden changes. Gardeners change. We lose interest in the cabbages, and develop a passion for squash.

We love fancy jam and decide to grow fancy berries. We decide dahlias are vulgar and devote ourselves to dwarf conifers.

Perhaps most amazing of all, we realize that there is always something new to marvel at and enjoy. Suddenly we see that the garden is not only color and fragrance, we become aware of the garden sounds: the wind rattling the bamboo, the deep thrum of the August cicada. It may have been there all the time, but we never noticed, or gave thanks.

Happy the spouse who can watch with delight as new passions, new skills and talents emerge, even as some loved habits and thoughts fall away.

Kate and Greg and Reverend Comstock

Kate and Greg and Reverend Comstock

It rained all week before the wedding. Saturday the skies were dark, but dry. At the appointed hour and preceded by her sisters, Kate entered the wedding tent. Just as her train cleared the tent the skies opened. Torrents fell and the assemblage laughed. When it was time for the bride and groom to take their vows the rain stopped – just as suddenly as it began. Greg and Kate stepped out into the dazzling sunlight promising to love and honor each other forever..

A few minutes later, while the photographer was busily snapping away, heavy mists blew across the hillside. The view disappeared. We couldn’t see across the pasture any more than we could see into the future. There was only romance and the scent of rain-splashed roses.

At such a moment it’s easy to imagine plenty and health and joy. After all who sets out the tomato plants without picturing the abundant harvest of red fruit that delights the eye, pleases the palate and satisfies the belly? But as Adam and Eve found in that first garden there can be trouble as well.

Gardeners spend a lot of time on their knees, in careful observation, in grubby and tedious weeding, in setting out slug traps, in admiration, in supplication, in gratitude.  As a wife I’ve spent a few hours on my knees, weeping, praying, cursing – and giving thanks for my great good fortune.

In the garden there are beautiful roses, fragrant herbs, tender lettuces, nourishing beans – but lurking in the soil and air are slugs and bugs, beetles, wilt and blight. The garden is not carefree. And yet, the slimy slug is just as inevitable in the healthy garden as the singing bird. Sun and rain. Brilliant day and darkest night. All inevitable. All necessary.

And so as Henry and I watched our bonnie Kate and beloved Greg step into a new space to make a garden of their own, we tucked our prayerful wishes into their tool basket. Wishes for strength and patience and joy.

May your Valentine’s Day be filled with romance and joy – and maybe some patience.

PS – Copies of the whole  book are available in local book stores, on Amazon and right here.

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