A lot of upheaval is afoot in the lower left corner, and has been for some months now. Late last fall I took a new job — a very good move professionally, a great opportunity of the kind you don’t get handed every day, and one that I was and remain excited about, but it came with complications. I’ll be spending most of my time in 2020 in Boulder, Colorado, and likely after that fully relocating there. Now, Boulder is a fantastic place, and there is a lot to be very, very grateful (and excited) for. But this has still been a hard, and often very sad, change to wrap my head around.
The thing is, I really love Southern California. Despite all the insanity and the 8 lane freeways and the crowds, and the dusty, baking hot late summer and fall, I still love it.
I didn’t always feel that way. I can remember my first view of the city of San Diego, landing at the airport. It seemed washed out in too-bright sun, a flat urban expanse in the lower left corner of the lower 48, pressed right up against the pacific, with far fewer trees and vegetation than it seemed to need. I was deeply disturbed by the extreme seasonality of rain. Things need rinsing off, and yet no rain for months. Plants as seemingly elementary as zinnias and echinaceas refused to survive. The way people insisted on planting birch trees and huge expanses of lawn. (The lawn trend at least noticeably reversed itself in the last nine years.)
But then there are all the wonderful and astounding things about Southern California, which I discovered with time. Succulents in all shades imaginable. New plants sprouting from a leaf dropped on the soil. Watching the hills transform to green almost overnight. The way sun feels in January, aloes newly blooming, hummingbirds zipping about, fat and happy, makes a person feel incredibly lucky. So does Palm Springs in February, gardens lush with spring while snow covered peaks loom above. It took a lot of time, a couple of years, for me to understand the seasons. People say Southern California has no seasons. I say there are about 9 of them, and they are more about a changing quality of light and clouds, and a subtle switching on and then off of plant life: things that take time to notice and yes come to love.
This should not be a “goodbye to California” blog post. That would be a whole project in an of itself, and at this point in life I know memory and love shape things you carry forward with you, not things you neatly wrap up and set behind. Nor should this *AT ALL* be a woe-is-me (hell, no). But this is a blog about gardening and I need to write about leaving my garden, and what that feels like, and get this out there. I write this sitting at the kitchen table of a house I am renting in Boulder for these first few months. It is a lovely and peaceful spot, with its own garden, dormant right now. My garden is over a thousand miles away in San Diego, in my husband’s expert care for now, but leaving it makes me sad in its own particular way distinct from all the other things I am sad to leave (friends, colleagues, favorite places) and I am still sorting that out.
Like many gardeners, I have always related to gardening as an act of creation, not a thing to finish and sit back and appreciate, but rather a thing to keep pushing, then babying, then backing off, then perhaps tearing out, or ignoring for a while when it feels hopeless. But leaving a garden is turning out to be a whole new kind of challenge. I’ve left gardens before — during the decade plus that I was an academic, I moved around a lot and lived in rentals. It was during those years that gardening, creating a place, working with plants, started to draw me in. In a new place that feels foreign and uncared for? I’d clean up the house and then turn to the outdoor space. I resurrected overgrown perennial beds and tore out poison ivy in Georgia, carved flower beds out of lawns in North Carolina, grew tithonias and zinnias and sunflowers in Iowa. I was just dipping my toe in with all that. It was San Diego where I really became a gardener.
I’ve been sitting with all these feelings over leaving my house and my garden but I am far from having my head wrapped around even 5 % of it. At times I am panicked with sadness — I’m not sure its all worry about the plants: I thinks its more worry about me, and my own deep attachment and sentimentality. I feel silly and melodramatic to admit all this. I have asked myself, will this garden haunt me for the rest of my life? (See? Melodramatic.) And yet, I think of all the other gardens and places that I love that you could say do haunt me, and then maybe “haunt” doesn’t feel so dark after all. Still hard though.
These last few weeks I’ve become deeply schooled in the fact that change, even good change that brings growth, involves loss. As gardeners we know change, seasons, death, the unexpected. Still, change is humbling, and sometimes hard.
So, this will be a big year of change, and as a gardener and a garden blogger I am uncertain of what that change means exactly. I’m just going to have to dig in see what happens.