Friday, February 08, 2008


As a novice gardener, I have learned many things through trial and error over the years and have discovered that I do not “grow” flowers, but rather coach them; they do the growing on their own. I also have come to realize that I am happiest with perennials that keep coming back in spite of my mistakes. My job is to weed out the harmful influences, keep them healthy and free of disease, and to protect and feed them. This is likewise true of my children.

In my own garden, it took me a while to learn that what is good for the Rose, is not also good for the Iris. The Rose requires rich, loose soil in order to embed its roots deeply. It needs lots of water and fertilizer, as well as mulch to protect it from the harsh freeze of winter. The Rose thrives best when carefully pruned, in order to redirect growth in the plant. Correct pruning encourages vigorous blooming and healthy new shoots. Removing dead and damaged wood allows the plant to produce healthy new canes. Occasionally, Roses require hard pruning to thrive; particularly for rejuvenating weak or neglected roses. Hard pruning builds up a strong root system and stimulates the plant to produce new, strong canes.

The Iris, on the other hand, has a thick fleshy root called a rhizome and needs to be planted in well drained, even grainy soil. It cannot tolerate excessive moisture and should be buried just beneath the surface. Once established in the ground, the Iris grows to the surface where it is exposed to the elements; surviving the harsh cold under cover from the snow. Mulch is not required and even damaging as it attracts pests and traps moisture.

In my early gardening days, I relocated a large batch of Iris to a cutting garden that I had planted in the back yard, fully expecting them to thrive in the rich soil beside the Peonies and beneath the mulch. I was not disheartened the first spring when the Irises grew but did not bloom and attributed this to the recent move and the need to settle in. In the second spring, few of the Irises came up at all and upon turning the soil, I found that the rhizomes had rotted.

In my early parenting days, I thought that raising children was similar to growing flowers, provide them all with rich soil, lots of food, water and sunshine and they would bloom. By the time my first born was fully entrenched in elementary school, I realized that he was not exactly like the other flowers in his classroom garden. His first two years were with experienced gardeners who knew just what he needed to thrive, but by second grade, he became disillusioned with school altogether and told me he just wasn’t good at it. His second grade teacher was a long time Rose gardener. She provided the rich soil and mulch and drenched him with water, but he did not bloom. She took to hard pruning; the kind reserved for weak and neglected Roses, but he withered.

It was shortly thereafter that our ADHD diagnosis came; something I knew in my heart all along. His time in the garden since then has been a seasonal adventure with each transplant. He would endure pruning and mulch some years, barely surviving the season, and then the Iris gardeners would collect him up and brush him off before the rot set in, planting him where he needed to be; exposed and at the surface, thriving on being able to feel the baking of the sun and the burning of the winter freeze. In the right soil, his blooms are outstanding and shine through his art and music.

My quest for seeking the right teacher became more difficult in middle school where teams of teachers worked together. He is now in high school where he does his academic day in our town high school, and buses to an arts magnet high school in a nearby city in the afternoon where he thrives; a balance that seems to work.

My second born is a Rose. His roots are deep and strong in the rich soil and he soaks up the waters of knowledge. He blooms well in the organized, structured environment that most of his teachers offer and grows stronger with pruning. His blooms are healthy and he has strong shoots covered with thorns to protect him from harm. He moves from garden to garden each year with relative ease, knowing what to expect and surrounded by others like him.

When my youngest was born, I knew early on that I was coaching an Iris. She possesses all of the creativity and lack of focus found in my first born, and likewise needs to feel everything, living life exposed on the surface. As a seasoned mother and gardener, I know to keep her out of the deep soil and to avoid excessive moisture. I am also not persuaded by Rose gardeners who wish to prune her, believing that she would be better as a Rose or that the Rose is more desirable.

She, too, had amazing teachers in her first years, but by first grade encountered a militant Rose gardener who, in the first ten days of school, decided to tape a tracking sheet on her desk and filled it with smiles or frowns at every transition, depending on her ability to stay on track and focused. At the end of the day, the teacher and all within view could see just how short she fell, as if shaming her would help her to concentrate and conform.

This teacher had a stop light in the class room where all of the flowers clipped their name in the green zone each morning. If they fell out of stride, they moved their clips to yellow and eventually to red where a parent would be called. Our first phone call was in the early weeks of school. When I asked my Iris what she had done to go to red, she admitted that she was singing and ‘there is no singing allowed in first grade.’ I brushed the mulch off of her and told her that I loved her singing and if she had to save it up all day, I was ready for a concert when she got home.

One Monday morning, I arrived to chaperone a field trip and noticed just after arrival that my Iris was clipped to yellow. “She, she’s having a bad day already.” One boy told me in passing. My daughter looked around in a small panic to figure out what she had done wrong, when the teacher admitted that it was left there from Friday. That week she brought home a drawing of what she learned in school. It was a picture of herself kneeling next to the stoplight, clipping her name on red with one sad tear on her cheek. The caption read, ‘I learned about school rules.’

She was slow to gain fluency in reading and understands math concepts beautifully if allowed to process equations through her own style. She also has reached the age of self awareness, where she notices her differences in the classroom garden.

“Sam is so much better than me at math and reading.” She told me one evening. ‘She does it so fast and always gets her work done on time.”

“Are you not able to get your work done?” I ask her.

“I never have a chance to finish because I get distracted in thinking about something a lot. The world is full of so many amazing things that when I see or think about them, I just can’t stop! ”

I explain that while it is important to get things done and we will find ways to help her with that, she should not sell herself short. I point out that we all have been given different gifts and that for some, reading, math and focusing are easier. Some people have organized minds that are great at following a plan. But some minds are thinking minds and where would we be without them?

“The world needs both kinds of people and you are a thinker!” I tell her.

As we prepare to leap to middle school next year, I continue to search for an eclectic garden for my Iris. We explored an arts magnet middle school in a nearby city, but it did not feel right to her. I am praying that she finds an experienced gardener with room for all varieties. As always, I will be standing by, gloves on and trowel ready to dig her out, brush off the mulch and listen to her sing.


Eileen said...

Love the way you compared the challenges of growing different flowers to the challenges of raising children with different and unique learning styles. Yet, despite the different ways they take in the information needed to grow and blossom, they do, because of the nurturing of wise gardeners/teacher who can recognize that no two children learn the same way, and all children have their own areas of strenghts, if are focused on, can lead to brillant, beautiful blossoms. What impresses me, actually I want to say, I am in total awe and have such respect for you, is the way you know your children so well, the way they learn best, what teaching style works best for them and what does not, what learning style helps them take in the most, the way you communicate to them, that despite their frustrations, they are still bright and amazing children. Most importantly, you, as the head gardener are always there, waiting, gardening gear reading, to help them, continue to blosson and grow. No matter what, you will always be with them, right by their side. What a powerful, loving message, that I know your children get loud and clear.

This is so beautiful and you got it exactly right. Thanks you for sharing this Nancy. It was extra special. I loved it.

Jerri said...

This is simply brilliant, Nancy. As one who is a gardener, a parent of one rose and one iris, and a reader--I can tell you how completely apt this is.

Cadence, as we meet her here, is a rare and gorgeous young woman. And so blessed to have you as her mother, finding the right conditions and holding up a mirror to show her her own deep colors and rich textures.

The world needs people who think and do things the "right " way. But we desperately need people who do things differently, who can turn things upside down and find new uses, who see with their hearts.

You and Cadence see with your hearts. Blessings to you both.

Deb said...

What a lovely metaphor! Thank you for sharing your flowers with us in such a powerful way.

Carrie Wilson Link said...

Gorgeous, gorgeous, f'ing GORGEOUS!!!!!

Now I'm going to be obsessed with the no singing in first grade rule! ARGH!