I am 68 years old and have been gardening for almost 50 years. For more than a third of this long garden row—18 years—I have been planting and weeding accompanied by Multiple Sclerosis. As a consequence of disease and age, my gardens—and my ambition—are slowly unwinding.
Life is still generous.
Gardening has soothed my soul for as long as I have gripped the handle of a hoe. Weeding can transport me to a loving and peaceful dimension—at least, until an army of noisy neighborhood weed eaters and leaf blowers brings me back to the overheated earth I love.
I cannot be without a garden.
M.S. is a chronic autoimmune disease. It’s not going away anytime soon. The disease works in mysterious ways. The immune system, in overdrive, attacks the protective myelin sheath that surrounds the spinal cord. The brain may be targeted, also. The result: Short-circuited, neurologic functions go catawampus. M.S. has not dulled all my senses.
I am okay. My balance is a little wobbly but manageable, but heat, stress and fatigue are my constant foes. Cognition, in my case, has always been a little suspect, even before my diagnosis, but doesn’t seem to be worse because of M.S.
I am lucky.
I am more patient and observant —not nearly as self-critical of imperfections as I once was. I move through garden beds now at a slower pace, often on my hands and knees. I enjoy finding bits of old labels that memorialize plants long dead; I often uncover camouflaged weeds just about to unleash a gazillion seeds.
Two years ago I turned over our Louisville garden to Rose. She was game. I couldn’t find the time or energy to love and fuss over two gardens. The country now holds my heart.
The Louisville garden now has a much wilder appearance. It’s more daring and less controlled. Rose has allowed the tougher perennials and shrubs to flourish. No more messing around with hard-to-please plants. Amsonia hubrichtii, baptisias, Packera area, Northern sea oats, epimediums, hellebores, Solomon’s seals and Japanese roof iris, ironweed, Lilium superbum, American beak grass and Joe-Pye-weeds have been allowed to spread their wings. Oak-leaf hydrangeas, sweetshrubs, paw paws, viburnums a golden larch and flowering magnolias attract attention in the woody sector. There’s a lot packed into our one-third-acre city lot.
Up the road, an hour from Louisville, I have planted hundreds of little trees on our Salvisa farm, over the last few years, with help from Rose and friends. Twenty-seven acres are leased and planted with organic soybeans. My neighbors don’t understand why I am taking out a couple of acres of good cropland to plant a small forest of oaks, yellowwoods, red buds, spicebushes and Norway spruce. Bird habitat, I answer. Part of me worries I might be channeling Don Quixote, but I don’t think so, even if hobby farms—and ours is a hobby farm—are often non-productive, and impractical = quixotic.
I pretend I know what I am doing.
Gardening is quixotic.
A planned grove of male Gingko ‘Autumn Gold’—not the stinky seed-bearing sort—may raise more eyebrows. I have 20 four-foot whips in a nursery bed that I will plant next year. One day, I can imagine a huge autumn carpet of golden leaves covering the ground. I will be long gone, but I am enchanted with the idea.
The young gingko whips are doing better than the cabbages that were eaten by worms; indigo buntings got the blackberries.
The meadow is flourishing.
Tomato blight is right around the corner, but Rose’s wonderful, dopey zinnias, giant sunflowers and salad-plate-sized dahlias have never looked better.
I am full of gratitude.