It was finally cooler outside this morning, so after breakfast I dressed in gardening clothes. The flowerbeds in the front of our house had been…well…dirtbeds all spring, minus one rogue tulip that we never planted. We have a fair amount of houseplants, and some nice greenery around the backyard deck, but we are not green thumbs by any stretch of the imagination. Every year our flowerbeds are not filled with beautifully trimmed rosebushes, but rather an evenly divided flat or two of basic annuals. Impatiens. If rosebushes are Louis Vuitton, impatiens are the Walmart of flowers. (Maybe the Target of flowers if they bloom well.) They are inexpensive, easy to plant, easy to maintain, and by fall, they’re gone.
The first summer we lived in this house, my husband and I picked up two flats of these little impatiens at the nursery. The plants were evenly divided into little containers, and it seemed simple enough–dig a hole, stick the plant and its preformed dirt-and-roots ball into the hole, cover with dirt. I was just putting the first plant in its hole when my husband stopped me. “What are you doing?” he asked. “You need to loosen the roots first.” And then before I could stop him, he began violently stabbing at the preformed ball of dirt-and-roots with a tiny shovel. I watched in horror as the perfectly formed roots gave way, as rich black soil fell away from the plant. “You’re hurting it!” I cried. He gave me a funny look and then said, “You have to loosen the roots so it can breathe.”
You have to loosen the roots so it can breathe.
He explained to me that if I planted the impatien perfectly intact, it would not receive the oxygen and other nutrients it needed to grow and flourish. I would simply be moving it from one container to the next. There would be little to no growth.
You have to loosen the roots so it can grow.
As I planted this year’s basic pink impatiens, I remembered this lesson. As I took each plant out of the flat, I began to massage and squeeze the roots and, whispering a quick apology, used a trowel to break up the roots. Rich black soil and sometimes roots fell from the plant, and then I placed it in the hole, covering it with dirt.
I’m pretty sure plants (especially the Walmart of plants) don’t have feelings, but I began to think about what it must feel like. Poor flower–you felt so safe in your flat, surrounded by others just like you. Poor flower–you felt so big and strong in your flat. Poor flower–you felt so pretty with your two pink blossoms. You never dreamed of being pulled from that flat, separated from the others. You never dreamed of the pain as you are literally being pulled apart at your most primal level. You never wanted this.
When was the last time you were uprooted? Maybe it was the end of a relationship, maybe when you received the diagnosis, maybe when you left the job (or the job left you). What was that moment that hurt like hell? What was that moment that knocked the wind out of you, left you wondering how you could be so hurt, so vulnerable? What caused such an intimate pain? What was that moment that left you wondering how you could go on? What was that moment when you realized your sense of being “in control” was simply an illusion?
Poor flower–you thought you had it all.
Poor flower–you thought that dark hole was a coffin.
Poor flower–you had no idea what would come next.
Your roots have been loosened…maybe now you can breathe. Maybe now you can grow.