This year, we had a glorious extended spring, but we also had one very late frost that stunted and damaged several of my more delicate shrubs. I adore the scent of gardenias. And there’s something alluring and elusive about a flower that must remain untouched on her stem to retain her white beauty. One bruise to her shy petals and she fades to brown and shrinks away. But this year, the late frost was too much. She lost her first leaves from the stress and they paled and shed thickly like tears. I tried to give her the typical fertilizers to help, but I was afraid that the life in her stems was retreating back to the roots as I watched her branches wither and blacken.
Over the last month, with some extra water and care, small green leaf buds reappeared on her lower stems and stretched out toward the sun in a final desperate attempt to revive and nourish the starved bit of life at her core. I remained hopeful. But there was still so much ugly blackness. So many dead sticks hemming in the new life. So, today, I cut them off. She didn’t need them. These reminders of past distress, worn like a stiff, mourning veil over her were ready to go.
It was a lot of debris, nearly all of her hard work from last year’s growth had to be snipped off. But I wish I had thought to take a before picture as well as an after picture. When she was finally freed from those lifeless remnants, there was So Much Life underneath. I was the one who held out hope that she had enough life to survive, yet I was pleasantly surprised that there was much more life in her than that. There was enough to be beautiful now, not just someday, and enough vibrancy to eek out one token flower in its proper season as proof of her resiliency.
It’s entirely possible that I invest too much emotion into the health of my garden. But I think the same emotions are entirely appropriate in human life. I have had the privilege to walk alongside many people through the unexpected frosts in their lives. I’ve had others accompany me (and do significant watering and fertilizing) during and after my own frosty periods. And there comes a time before you can bloom again where a person looks as though there is growth and new life, but there are many lifeless and painful parts of their lives that have to be removed from the forefront. They may even look at those branches and say, “See! I put so so much work in to establish this, and it was all for nothing. I tried! I poured my life, my self, into that branch and now it only fills me with fear and dread because I know how fragile my joy can be and how delicate I am in the face of cruel winter ice.” They may not see how much green there is. They themselves may not understand the strength of roots that can defy a hard frost and the power of survival pulsing and quickening in new shoots.
If you know a gardenia in distress, help them let go when it is time, help them tap into that inner strength and life, help them see their beauty–not killed by the frost, just changed, just pruned into a new shape to accommodate the glorious new shoots and branches reaching for the sun.
If you are a gardenia in distress, allow a gardener to help you. Allow yourself to feel the sun, to accept the rain, to place the painful memories and fears aside (when you have built up enough inner strength to do so and to discern what must go and what may stay), and draw that strength that I know you have into new growth and new directions. You are worth it.
You may have survived a frost, but I predict that your reclaimed life will perfume the whole garden before you know it. Be brave.