Something Worth Fixing

Written on by Kathryn Lerro

I love my little city garden. It’s just 10 feet by 14 feet, but the pleasure I get from it is HUGE. The first year we lived here in South Philly (I can hardly believe we’ve been here almost ten years!), I cleaned and plastered and painted, I found planter boxes to sit along the top of the walls that line two sides of the yard, then began filling the boxes with plants. I put a café table and chairs out there, and voila—a little urban oasis was born.

The world outside my front door is often noisy and stressful, but the world outside my back door . . . my little garden world . . . is so peaceful. Something that I love about the garden is that we have a symbiotic relationship: I nurture it, and it nurtures me.   

The garden looks different from year to year; it’s a wonderful, ever-changing experiment. The photo above is from a few years ago, when sweet potato vines were the stars of the show. This year the planter boxes feature Creeping Jenny—which came back from last year, and phlox—a perennial I added this year in hopes it would thrive and save me expense and effort for years to come. Filling one corner of the garden is my favorite plant, a huge hydrangea which was small when my girls gave it to me for Mother’s Day 9 years ago. I’ve re-potted each year, and now it is gigantic and lives in the largest pot I could find.

The garden looked great as spring gave way to summer. The hydrangea burst onto the scene with 50 big blossoms, and I finally discovered the soil acidifier that made the flowers turn deep blue—my favorite hydrangea color. The phlox were spreading to fill the boxes, and the Creeping Jenny was trailing down the wall. Every time I looked out my kitchen window, I couldn’t help but smile.

But although things seemed fine on the surface, I soon learned that unseen forces had been secretly assaulting my little garden. One day I noticed the phlox had stopped blooming and had developed brown patches. A closer look showed they had been invaded by insects—at least three different kinds. The past three weeks have been all-out war in the garden. I attacked the infestation with an organic insecticide; when I’d gone through the whole bottle and the insects seemed undaunted, I moved on to straight-up chemical spray. That didn’t work either. My latest effort was a granulated product which attacks pests at the soil level. I was worried that all these chemicals might be shocking the plants, so I gave all of them a good dose of Miracle Grow, and then waited to see what would happen.  

A few days later, I looked out the window and gasped. The formerly vibrant blooms on my hydrangea had gone pale, and some of the blossoms had brown withered patches. I went outside to inspect and found the insects had migrated to the hydrangea, and to make matters worse, I realized that I’d used the wrong version of Miracle Grow, and it had sweetened the soil, which made the colors fade.

This summer, when everything seems wrong in the outside world, I really need my garden! I need to look out my window and see soothing green leaves and bright, happy flowers. I need to be able to sit out there with a good book, and be transported away from the hot, crowded city to whatever place I’m reading about. Instead, I look out and see damage and disappointment. Feeling discouraged, I actually considered throwing everything away, disinfecting my planters, and giving up for this year. But my investment (of time, money and hope!) was too great, so I decided to do whatever it takes to get my little oasis back.

As I stood in the garden deciding what course of action to take to make things right, it occurred to me that my garden and my country are both suffering similar crises.  The United States (also a wonderful, ever-changing experiment) has suffered so much lately.

I could ask 10 different people what they think the forces are that have caused America’s current problems, and I’d likely get 10 different answers: from government leaders, to police officers, to violent protesters, to political parties, to the news media, to our history of slavery, to various social movements, to COVID-19, and even to the Founding Fathers—there’s so much blame to go around, and so many targets for that blame.

But casting blame never really solves anything, so my hope, my prayer, is that the accusations will stop, and the repair-work will move forward, that we will nurture America properly, so she can once again nurture us. Because what’s right about America is so much bigger than what’s wrong with her.

And she’s most definitely worth fixing.

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