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What will it be this year: rows of marigolds, geraniums, wave petunias? Or perhaps dwarf zinnias or impatiens or cornflowers? My tools are ready. My hands itch to prepare the soil and begin planting the raised garden spanning the front of my bungalow.

While I mulled over the selection of varied annuals, I happen to come across a novel about another garden, a four-by-four-foot patch of soil hidden among rubble left in the aftermath of the London blitz; it was tended by Lovejoy Mason, a heartsick eleven-year-old, her black and white dog-toothed coat barely covering her lanky frame. Abandoned by her mother to the care of an aspiring restaurateur and his wife, the hardened Lovejoy swipes a packet of cornflower seeds and, with passion, sets about growing them. Over a span of three months she draws the protection of Tip Malone, thirteen, head of the “sparrows,” the name given to the street kids. She also attracts the compassion of a wealthy spinster, plagued by lifelong ailments. Buoyed by these relationships and the flowering of the cornflowers, Lovejoy emerges from a mean-spirited waif with pale eyes and complexion to a robust presence to be reckoned with.

Such is the multi-faceted novel, An Episode of Sparrows (1955), written by the prolific British author, Rumer Godden.

Gardening still tends wounds.

 

 

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Beneath wintry graves soils engage spidery root-bulbs.

Hesitant blades pierce the mulch.

March rains dampen tentative greens like children forgetting their lines.

Weeks pass.

Spiked blades pattern gardens like players on chessboards.

Hard nubs stretch like infants flailing rubbery limbs.

 

April suns toast the nubs, urging them to spring from earth’s darkness.

Flickers of color expand and soften the petals.

 

Tulips have returned! We give thanks!

 

 

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While sitting with an old friend in her patio garden, I noted a flat rock among Shasta daisies, etched with the words, “Quiet hearts hear the songs of gardens.” Ever alert for possible blog topics to explore, I tucked it away in my word processor. That was two years ago.

At the time, distractions had jammed my heart over her wasting body, pumped with drugs subduing the ravages of multiple myeloma. Yet her heart was quiet. Never was she happier when sunning in her armchair, marveling over the sprouting of her perennials and tracking the return of ruby-throated humming birds flitting around her feeders suspended from her plank fence.

As months passed, her heart became even quieter, tuned to the riches of her inner world fed by decades of prayer and meditation. Visits became repetitive: stories of her birds; gratitude for Marina, her Bosnian helper; occasional falls in her kitchen; some dreams.

On two occasions, her strength played out, she had to enter Sherwood Village for restorative care. Outside her window, pines and maples shaded the feeders that drew cardinals zooming for seeds. Watching them from her wheelchair assuaged her grumpiness. Restored to a modicum of self-care after hours in physical therapy, she returned to her garden patio, where her heart’s song submerged within her depths. How I longed to catch strains of it, but only her God was privy to it. As she was in good hands, I withdrew.

More months passed. In her neighborhood one morning, I stopped by her garden patio. My heart dropped. November’s chill had crisped the perennials. The hummingbird feeder was empty. A blue sheet covered the sliding glass doors leading inside her condo, where I had been her guest. She had finally entered the ever-fresh song in her heart.

 

 

 

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Her name was Agnes.

 

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