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Gardening Reflects Life Itself

For the first time, I grew sunflowers in the little garden beds I’m trying to bring to life in my yard

By Maggie Doherty

Sunflowers are my favorite flowers. I carried them in my wedding bouquet 11 years ago. The flowers were a late addition to our small wedding aboard the DeSmet on Lake McDonald and the day before that most brilliant of September days, my mom went to a florist and left with sunflowers, ferns, and a snappy purple flower that I don’t know the name of. Georgia O’Keefe’s painting “A Sunflower from Maggie” is another favorite of mine for obvious reasons. The painting is a stunner. The appeal of helianthus is its cheery petals, how it turns its face to the sun, and its towering heights, stretching higher and higher into the sky.

For the first time, I grew sunflowers in the little garden beds I’m trying to bring to life in my yard. Thanks to a friend who met me in the parking lot at school last June, tempting me with her gardening wisdom and an offer of sunflowers that would transfer well from her bed to mine, I took her up on it. She said she had too many and another mom in the parking lot overheard us and told me that I should get Courtney’s sunflowers no matter what.

With my two kids, we drove to West Valley where I saw the veggie garden of my dreams and marveled at Courtney’s knowledge of how to grow beans, tomatoes, lettuce, pumpkins and cucumbers. The soil looked rich and healthy, and I began to imagine how verdant it would look come July. Although my mother is a gardener, among her other crafty talents like quilting and sewing, I’ve acquired none of this knowledge so when Courtney dug up a half dozen green stalks of young sunflowers, I worried that this gift would soon foul under my care.

With the back of my car full of plants and instructions on how to water them, I left Courtney’s house with anticipation and dread. I want to be a gardener. I really do. I try, and sometimes the strawberries have done well, and I have a neglected sage plant that doesn’t seem to need one ounce of attention and is no worse for it. When spring arrives, I’m bursting with energy to plant, and when I’ve had a rough day, weeding and ripping plants from the ground is the perfect release. Yet, my garden still wanes, and many of my plants die come July.

When I returned from being away much of August, I didn’t think the sunflowers would make it. I have a questionable system of hoses and irrigation timers and I wondered if the extreme heat of the summer would sizzle the gifted plants. Perhaps many of you in possession of a green thumb already know the outcome: the sunflowers live and are tall and bright and beautiful. The sage is doing OK, too. Everything else is dried to a crisp.

When I saw Courtney dropping off her twin boys on the first day of school, I was so eager to let her know that her sunflowers made it. They’re now so tall they’re almost reaching the surrounding deer fence. She smiled and told me of her bountiful harvest and I love how much gardening reflects life itself: sharing of plants to bloom elsewhere, seeking wisdom and tips from other growers, and delighting in the bounty. Courtney reminded me that the seeds will spread and next year I can expect even more to grow. What a wonderful gift.