Two years ago I visited a garden centre near where I live which among the other better plants sold a variety of plants which had/have no business being here on the prairies. I bought from Gwen a couple of plants I still have, an olive which is currently in the fight for spring sunshine, and a bougainvillea. The bougie, as I’ve come to call it, is one of the old friends that has come with me the last couple of years and I suspect with the right care and attention will be someone I lovingly grow old with. I’m hoping the east window in the new house will be enough for her.
During a really difficult depression, one that just about stopped me from participating in the world beyond what I absolutely had to, the branches went absolutely bare. Every single leaf disappeared and for six months they covered themselves in flowers, multitudes of flowers. At one point it was a three foot tall pillar of bright pink. Oddly enough, when I came out of the depression the flowers ceased and it started growing leaves. The branches are wild, angular, and in all sorts of brambly directions but I didn’t mind. I kind of liked the green and the wildness of it all.
But today was the day that I realized the reason the leaves kept turning yellow was because it needed to be repotted, and if I wanted it to bloom again I was going to have to take drastic action and prune the snot out of it. Hard. So I put some newspaper down on the coffee table, began pruning away the dead branches and dry wood, being careful to leave some of the established growth. Once I repotted it, I took some of the stronger branches I had cut of and put them into the pot to try and root some cuttings.
While I was pruning, one of the thorns (yes, they do have thorns. Everywhere a bloom comes out a thorn grows…ironic that!), pierced my thumb pretty deep. Revenge, I suppose, for the drastic pruning I had to do.
Considering the nature and life of a hermit, there is an important lesson that has to be learned, both by pruning and repotting, but also by the piercing of the thorn into my thumb. The orders of monastics who live hermit lifestyles come out of the desert frequently to associate with their brothers, usually during mass, but also to share a communal meal and to enjoy the company of other human beings. The thinking behind this is that complete and total solitude can in fact create a distance, a gap, between the seeking soul and the Divine rather than a closeness, or a connection. Only in communing with others are we able to return into our solitude and go deeper towards that connection between God and our hearts. Pruning is like this, in a way. Each branch can in fact deliver new growth and provide life to the plant; but if the branches are not pruned on occasion, with compassion and well intended common sense, the plant will not flower. It will in fact wither, become weaker, and eventually die if it is not cared for. Sometimes along the way, we encounter a thorn that may pierce. Pain is not a reason to escape the world, it is a consequence of engaging it.
Every seed that is put into the soil is a risk. The risk is that it may not germinate, or that it will be weak. There are things we as gardeners can do to minimize that risk and maximize the potential, but in the end we are only allowed what is in our control: we can increase or decrease the light, we can increase or decrease the nutrients, we can increase or decrease the humidity. Or we can simply not engage the plant and refuse the seed in the ground.
Grow hard or go home. Plant vigorously, prune when needed, weed when required. And take the time to enjoy the fruits with some wine and some friends. The garden, even if a potted plant, is a place of retreat and solitude but unless it is shared with others, the work is meaningless.