Tuesday, August 30, 2011

So Much More Than Flower Baskets

I was supposed to dispose of them while Chris was away.  That was my intention.  It's always worked in the past--wait until Chris isn't around and can't see what I do, then follow through on the deed.  Upon his return, let him know I've done it, when he has no choice but to accept it. This time, however, I didn't have the courage.  This time, I lost my nerve.

In late May, Chris and I bought two huge baskets from the local nursery, filled with a variety of beautiful flowers.  Last year, we installed a couple of decorative hooks to the inside of two columns holding up the roof above our back door.  That was the new home for the baskets.  I knew they'd look amazing there.  What pleasure they'd give us when we went out and saw their brilliant cheerfulness.

The year before, we cheaped out.  Money was a little tighter because we had so much landscaping work to do around the yard, so we bought a couple of hanging baskets filled with non-hanging petunias for $9.99 apiece.  Well, we got our money's worth. A few short weeks later, the baskets looked awful, like we'd paid as little for them as we had.  I resolved to make better choices next year.

Which I did.  At $35.00 per, the baskets this May were spectacular and lush, overflowing with hanging petunias and other intricate flowers I don't know the names of.  One basket was filled with white flowers and the other with red.  I was so convinced, having spent far more money than I could imagine previously on two flower baskets, that we'd continue to enjoy their beauty well into October.

But was I wrong.  Several weeks later, whole branches of petunias died, leaving patches of brown stems and wilted flowers throughout.  I continued to water the baskets once a day and hoped the plants would revive, but they didn't.  In fact, they got worse.  So much so that I didn't want to see them when I went out the back door.  Too depressing to be reminded of all the money we'd wasted.

I told Chris they had to go.  Of course, he objected, as I knew he would.  This is the guy who saves every living thing.  We've had house plants consisting of no more than a sickly stem and a single yellow leaf, yet he wants to save them.  When we lived in Victoria, his bathroom, which was brilliant with light, became known as the plant graveyard--their final stop before they went out for good.

At the very least, I told Chris, I had to remove the baskets from their hooks and put them down on the deck, propped on a couple of overturned nursery pots.  To tell you the truth, I was embarrassed at how badly they'd turned out and didn't want our neighbors to see them, especially since their baskets, which they'd paid a lot less for, were full and beautiful.

Down on the deck, the baskets looked even worse.  Chris and I continued to take care of them, even though I knew it was a lost cause.  My heart cried whenever I saw them.  I felt like a failed parent, like I couldn't be trusted with anything alive, even though our houseplants are thriving. Every time I looked at the baskets, I thought they must be in pain.  How could they look like that and not be?

Whenever I threatened to get rid of them, Chris continued to object.  He wouldn't hear of it.  Instead, he'd go outside and, garden clippers in hand, sit on a deck chair near the pots and painstakingly remove every brown stem, every spent flower.  From the kitchen window, I watched him try to save what little was left.  He seemed like a child, willing a dead bug back to life.

Chris's restoration routine took place twice this summer, on both baskets.  No matter how bad they looked, he cared for them as though his tender, loving touch was sure to return their vigor. The amount of love and attention he devoted to them broke my heart.  I wished, for his sake, they'd recover, but when there's no hope, there's no hope.  Why couldn't he see that?

Before Chris left to visit his dad in Castlegar a few weeks ago, I told him the two baskets would be gone when he returned.  I told him maybe he couldn't do what needed to be done, but I could. And I was determined I would.  I couldn't imagine keeping them around until autumn. Sarcastically, I told him to say his good-byes because that's the last he'd see of them.  

He gave me the unhappy face.  Disgusted, he told me I was heartless, had no respect for living things.  "I'm sure you can't wait until I leave," he said, "so you can get rid of them."  "You're damn right," I responded.  "I'm not looking at those ugly things until September.  They've upset my sensibilities long enough.  Why do you still want to keep them around?  Can't you see they're dead."

Only, I couldn't do it.  Not only could I not do it, but when I tended to the garden while Chris was away, I watered the two hanging baskets as well.  Every evening I looked at them, shook my head in disbelief, and wondered why we still had them, why we'd allowed them to bring down the appearance of our deck for so many weeks.  What was so important about these two damn hanging baskets?

After my run this morning, I looked at them again, still sitting on the overturned pots next to the fence on the side of our back deck--uglier than ever, waiting for someone to put them out of my misery.  But I'm afraid that won't be me, because I can't do it.  Every time I look at them, I see Chris through the kitchen window, his back to me, sorting the dead from the live, carefully clipping here and there.  

At some point, they ceased being flower baskets and became extensions of Chris, surrogates while he was away on vacation.  And every time I was near them, I felt him, even though he was hundreds of miles away.  I felt the care and attention he'd put into them, the love, really, and getting rid of them would have felt like getting rid of him, which I could no more do than...                                  


  1. Oh, good grief!

    As I read your post, I kept thinking of Charlie Brown's Christmas tree. We are lucky to have people in our lives who continue to see hope when the rest of us have moved on.

    Seems green thumbs are selective. I grew tomatoes for years and watched them come so close to ripening before succumbing to blight. People would tell me what I was doing wrong, I'd change my ways and...more blight. Gave up. By contrast, I haven't watered anything other than my flower baskets this summer and everything is flourishing. Go figure.

    Splurge next year. Buy twice as many baskets. Make sure they are close matches. Give half of them as loaners to the Joneses next door. After Chris tends to his sickly brown blooms and leaves, replace them with the substitutes. Look! The nurturing worked! (I'm just kidding, of course, but it's fun to imagine that all that loving attention can make the difference.)

    Yes, Chris and the baskets are keepers. Hang those baskets proudly!

  2. You get it, Greg. You really do. I'm always worried I won't be as clear as I possibly can be in my writing, and that readers won't understand what I'm getting at. But you did, and I'm so pleased.

    I especially love the following two lines:

    1. "We are lucky to have people in our lives who continue to see hope when the rest of us have moved on." And,
    2. "Yes, Chris and the baskets are keepers." I'm not so sure about the baskets, but, without question, Chris is. (And, I guess by association, so are the baskets).

    I love the Charlie Brown reference, and I laughed like hell over your idea for next year. Might be worth a try. I bet it would make Chris feel better about his efforts.

    What comes across in your writing is how sweet you are, both in this comment and in your own blog posts. I hope you take that as a compliment because I assure you it's meant that way.

    Thank you so much for stopping by, and for taking the time to write such a fun and insightful comment. I really appreciate it.

  3. I have a different take on this. How you feel about the failing baskets came through loud and clear. That's always the sign of a good writer.

    The flower baskets are only 10% of the issue. I know you know that, right? The other 90% is how you perceive them. You can't change people or the things they do but you can find a way to make it better for yourself. You can't change the fact that Chris saves likes to save every living thing. Try to change how you view that philosophy of his.

    Imagine years from now that you are the "ugly thing" hanging around. Chris would care for you in the same loving way right to the end. He wouldn't be so quick to send you to a nursing home. He would devote the same amount of love and attention to you. That is something very special.

    Chris makes a real effort to please you by taking the garden clippers in hand, sitting on the deck chair near the pots and (as you say) painstakingly remove every brown stem and every spent flower. He's doing that to make you feel better about it.

    You say that Chris is the most amazing human being and this is one part of what makes him so. Appreciate that.

    If the same flower baskets present themselves next year, find the way to make it better for yourself, whatever that way is. Maybe, as Greg suggests, you buy twice as many baskets. Or get huge baskets of silk flowers made that you can put away in September, hang in the spring and that will be vibrant and colourful all summer long. Hang a nice wind chime instead. Anything. Perhaps nothing. Admire the flower baskets in the neighborhood and resign yourself to the fact that it's not something that works in your yard. Enjoy the beautiful yard you both have worked so hard on.

    Above all...admire that characteristic in Chris that shows itself in how he cares for living things. Including you.

    I'm off on a month long road trip to Key West, Florida this weekend. Will check in on your blog when I get home.

    Alison in Victoria

  4. I smiled when I read what you wrote, Alison. Of course, you are absolutely right.

    Perception is everything. Where I see something unsightly, Chris sees the lingering beauty in what's still there. Cup half empty; cup half full. Those are the two perspectives Chris and I have, and that, in part, is why we're so good together. We help each other to see the opposite perspective and usually land somewhere in the middle, which is closer to the truth than either extreme.

    What I really connected to in your words is the comment you made about Chris continuing to show me attention and love when I reach my own ugly stage (some would say I have days like that already). I know this to be true. He's proven time and again he's not willing to throw away anything just because it's not perfect or because it seems hopeless. And that is one of the many reasons why he's such a sweet, kind, and compassionate man. (It's also one of the reasons why I love him so damn much.)

    Alison, I love your point of view. I don't see myself buying silk flowers to hang outside any time soon (as lovely as they can be), and we may not be successful at growing outdoor baskets (as the past two years would indicate), but our yard has so much going for it. Some areas are outstanding, and it restores my spirit just to be near them. That's what we need to focus on, right? The things that work, not the things that don't work. And, yes, I did appreciate the neighbors's baskets. They were truly magic to behold.

    I love that, through sharing here the simple things that go on in my life, I learn about myself from the generous comments of my readers. I'm fortunate, indeed, that you and Greg took the time to enlighten me. I see that as one of the great advantages of writing a blog like mine. I hesitated publishing this personal essay, but I'm so grateful I did. Wonderful things come from being honest with yourself and others. And we have the opportunity to learn from each other, don't we?

    Many thanks for taking the time to comment. I really appreciate it. And have a safe and enjoyable road trip. I look forward to hearing from you upon your return.