The day finally arrived. On the morning of June 21, 2014, the volunteers arrived to prepare for the arrival of hundreds of visitors to my garden. Nearly a year earlier, I’d accepted the invitation of the Champaign County Master Gardeners to be one of the featured gardens on the 2014 Garden Walk.
With 30 minutes until the first visitors arrived, I hurried through my garden, floral snips in hand, cutting flowers to make an arrangement that would decorate the table that held the water cooler. Putting together this final touch on the garden mirrored the previous months. Precision under pressure. There’s nothing like the prospect of hundreds of strangers touring your garden to inspire quality in your effort and creativity.
I discarded the scraps of stems and leaves, cleaned myself up and … waited.
From the moment the first visitors arrived, I was on stage — in a way I’d never before experienced. My garden, my sanctuary, was suddenly an attraction. I watched from the corner of the front yard for hints of affirmation in the faces of the first people who had paid to visit my garden. I’d been told by others that it would pay to have a thick skin, to not take any criticisms personally.
But how could I not? My garden is me. I am my garden. I’d put so much of myself into this garden; my hands were quite literally numb from all the digging, planting, weeding and moving stone. The design, mine. The plant choices, all mine. My body. My sweat. My labor. My passion.
I needed people to love it.
And love it they did.
I stood all day. I talked until I was hoarse. I answered questions — some so many times I felt like a broken record. But my heart smiled because the day was nothing but uplifting affirmation. People loved my garden. They gushed about my garden. Most importantly, they were inspired to improve their own gardens by my garden.
When my son, who had been at a baseball tournament most of the day, asked me how it went, I tried to explain it in terms he would understand. I knelt next to his bed, looked at him and said earnestly,
“Imagine you’d worked so hard to improve your batting, all season long. Then in the last game — the championship game — you come up to bat with the bases loaded. Your team is down by three. Two outs. Everything depends on you. You hit a 3-2 pitch over the fence for a game winning grand slam. Feels good, right?”
“Well, now imagine when you return to the dugout, there are 750 people lined up to give you a high-five! That’s how today felt.”
As the last visitor walked through the garden gate, over the flagstone path installed just a week earlier, an emotional exhaustion welled up in me.
I’d done it.
I’d created something that hundreds of people loved — and many would remember beyond their visit.
Is this what it felt like to close the curtain on a perfectly-orchestrated opening night of a Broadway performance? It must be.
For me, however, it was more than opening night.
I’d spent the last months of garden walk preparation knowing that I’d be leaving my garden. For reasons that will remain private, my life, my family — and where I garden — have changed. My motivation to “finish” the garden was for more than the garden walk; I wanted to complete this chapter in my garden adventure.
As I closed the gate and turned towards the back garden, I took it all in one last time.
If you’d been hiding behind one of the trees, peeking around the trunk, you may have even seen me take one final bow.