The sky was still dark when my daughter left for school with her best friend. Both were in high school at the time. They walked arm in arm down the front walkway to the car. Standing at the entrance, in my pajamas and robe, leaning against the doorframe, I watched the outline of their backpacks blend with the hint of fiery red sky beyond them. Just as I closed the front door, the telephone rang. It was a friend from Oregon calling. “Are you watching television?”
“No….its six thirty in the morning!”
“I know…but…something has happened.” Urgency and alarm was apparent in his voice. “A plane has crashed into the world trade center. Smoke is pouring from it like an ominous torch….people are….”
I called my husband and handed him the telephone, turning on the television at the same time with my free hand. We watched for an hour stunned.
For the next forty-eight hours I baked bread, lit candles for the lives lost, and murmured prayers in the hope of lives remaining. These are the things I do to comfort myself when uncertainty fills each hour of the day.
By Friday bread had been broken, candles had dimmed, and we were left with a lingering emptiness, searching for something to bridge the void left by grief.
I found my husband outside, standing in the pasture between our garden and our neighbor’s house. The widow next door had long ago sold the last of her horses and asked for a few flowering plants to be placed there. She was tired of looking out her living room window at dust and weeds.
“What are you doing?” I asked him.
“We’re going to build a garden here, in memory of that tragic day.”
And so the garden was begun on the Friday following nine eleven. Every member of the nursery staff wanted to participate. Plants were chosen and placed for the initial planting and each individual came up to the garden throughout the day to plant at least one.
‘Far Horizons’ was the first to be placed in the ground, a native lilac selected by Dara Emery at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. Another lilac was ‘Blue Sapphire’. Plants included ‘Bees Bliss’ sage, ‘Silver Surprise’ lilac, ‘California Glory’ flannel bush, and lavender, the color of purple mountains majesty. There was the pure white of currant flowers, and the blues of ‘Tuscan Blue’ rosemary, and brilliant red shedding bark of Madrone with edible red berries. And in the center a purple Smoke Bush with flowers depicting puffs of smoke. The visual effect as well as the names themselves represented the beauty and peace of our country, while still carrying symbols of the landscape that day- red for the blood shed, blue for overwhelming sadness, smoke for fire.
After an extended period of travel I returned home, to find the new garden waiting peacefully for further growth, sowing, nurturing. On February 26 a new section was laid out, Cotinus Grace, Fremontia Ken Taylor, more lavenders, Phlomis fruticosa compact form. An existing large tree mallow had burst into bloom near the gate, with dark pink flowers. The patterns were geometric, with rows of lavenders and arbutus in triangles.
The year now is 2014, and our widowed neighbor is almost ninety. The nine eleven garden recieves care sporadically. Sometimes from a student intern, or on a rare weekend when my husband and I are caught up with daily responsibilities and just want to garden for a few hours. Parts of the area are overgrown, and parts retain their original dignity. The smoke tree is flourishing and the lavender has spread to encompass a larger part. There is a LiveRoof doghouse in the middle of the garden now. Made by a local artisan from all recycled and reclaimed materials, it marks the grave site of our neighbors dog Jake, a familiar visitor to the nursery for many years.
There have been other terrorist scares since nine eleven. Sometimes when lingering fearfulness surfaces, the best thing I can do is put my hands to the soil and garden. Because in this simple act I feel a small measure of control in sustaining life.