Today's Paper News Sports Features Business Opinion LEARNS Guide Newsletters Obits Games Archive Notices Core Values

DEBRA HALE-SHELTON: Taking steps to rebuild a garden

by Debra Hale-Shelton | June 28, 2020 at 8:15 a.m.

He's going to cut down my crape myrtle.

It's the one that rises above the roof at the house where I lived until recently. Its flowers are pink, and its bark is as beautiful as any I've ever seen, like the tanned legs of a swimming athlete.

I have never once committed what gardening columnist Janet Carson calls "crape murder"--where all too many people whack off the top of the bush each year, thereby keeping it small and never allowing themselves a good look at the beige bark.

The crape myrtle has always gotten along well with its neighbors since I planted it about 16 years ago. A few feet away is a huge evergreen that had staked its turf long before I moved to Conway. Thunderstorms and old age have begun to take their toll on the evergreen, though.

Nearby is a tall, slender oak tree that I planted when it was a tiny branch, a mere stick given to me by one of my high school teachers. Today, that tree also towers above our roof and stands between the crape myrtle and a magnolia tree that we also planted near our house in a middle-class subdivision where Bradford pear trees are all too common. I had dreamed of a magnolia tree since I was a child growing up in Marked Tree, and loved their large white flowers.

In December, my life began changing drastically with little regard for what I wanted. It seemed as if my luck had run out. I moved from the only house where I'd ever lived in Conway to a small duplex apartment on the other side of town. My husband and I were separating, and we didn't communicate too well. So I moved out first, a decision I sometimes regret. In fairness to him, though, he is taking care of some projects aimed at boosting the house's sale price.

Recently, he told me he's having the crape myrtle cut down because, he said, its roots are damaging the house. I question that. But like most people, I have bigger worries.

He's also going to hire someone to chop down the mimosa tree in the backyard. The birds and I have long enjoyed it and its predecessor, but I know mimosas are invasive. In fact, I didn't plant the mimosa; it was what's called a "volunteer" planted by the birds. I simply watched it grow and spread its seed. All that is to say I'm OK with this bit of yard work, though I'd rather wait until the hummingbirds fly south for the winter.

Unless I asked for help, I was the only one in my family who worked in the yard. So I guess I'm resentful. I feel as if all the work I did on the gardens--and my marriage--is being cast aside, replaced, or worse, sawed down.

Since I moved, the bright yellow sunflowers I planted in the backyard were among the first plants to vanish, as was the milkweed I grew to help the endangered monarch butterflies.

So when my husband casually suggested gutting the front garden and planting new flowers there, I said no. After all, this garden features a lovely Rose of Sharon, a tree mentioned in the Old Testament's Song of Solomon 2, a passage that was read aloud at our wedding. I'm sure I'm the only one who remembers that reading, and I'm sure this is not a closed subject.

As I write this, I'm trying to find out if I can dig up the crape myrtle and plant it elsewhere. Yet I realize that's not too practical because the tree is so large. Besides, I have nowhere to plant it where I can enjoy it. I suppose I could move the crape myrtle to the backyard of our house, but I'd likely never see it after it's sold.

The amateur psychologist in me says all this consternation about trees, bushes and flowers--not to mention the birds, bees and butterflies that feed on them--is really about something else: saying goodbye to a big part of my life.

The isolation associated with the coronavirus pandemic hasn't helped either. My two writing groups haven't met in a few months. For most of my life I've attended church services, though lately I've worshipped with my mother at home via an online service. We pray, take communion, sing, and listen, but we don't interact with anyone other than each other.

I was struggling before the virus hit, though. I had recently undergone two heart surgeries and was limited in about everything I did. Oh, I could read a book, watch TV, write a poem. But I missed so much--my friends, my dad who died in September, my daughter who was away at college until the virus sent her back home, even the modest amount of conversation my husband and I had shared.

And when a woman my age frets about much of anything from a crape myrtle to age or sex discrimination, she often meets with scoffs, dismissive smiles and words like "Why do you care?"

I've thought about things I can do to make my life better. Perhaps I can eventually teach one or two journalism classes. I would enjoy the academics and the friendship of other teachers. I'd like to visit my friends and colleagues in Chicago again. Maybe I can even take a vacation, perhaps to a city like New York with lots of people walking to work, ordering street food, taking elevators to their apartments that, like my trees, stand tall and look out over a city of lights whether it's noon or midnight.

And maybe, just maybe, I'll write that book, maybe one of essays on food, politics, family and, of course, gardening.

As for that crape myrtle, I promise not to spend much more time fretting over it. After all, I'm starting over in the garden and in life, and I'll plant another one someday.

Debra Hale-Shelton can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @nottalking.



Sponsor Content