These days I'm semi-obsessed with Freecycle. It's how I got my $600 Dyson for the price of a cab ride. So this summer when my terrace was sadly empty, I posted about wanting some large plants and trees.
One morning last month I got an exciting response to my post, rearranged my day, and within three hours I had with 2 large trees and 18 plants, including 3 window boxes of impatiens.
Jan, the very nice lady via freecycle, was cleaning out the apartment of her 88 year old mother-in-law, Stella Hardee, who had died the previous month. (Jan and her husband live in Mountain View, CA so transporting greenery cross-country would have been a little crazy.)
It turns out that Stella had been incredibly passionate about her plants, often photographing and send them on holiday cards to friends and family. The family couldn't bear the thought of tossing her garden out; they just wanted the plants to find a good home.
Stella and her son Martin over the years.
Just as we got all the plants settled at my place, Jan texted me that one (insanely heavy) planter of wrought iron was actually a family heirloom: a fireplace grate from her husband's great, great, great (add more greats) grandfather and that the brother-in-law really wanted it back. I offered that the mix-up was because they were clearly meant to come see Stella's plants in their new West side home (Stella and I live at opposite ends of the city, although our terraces share the same Eastern exposure). The next day Jan and her husband Martin and I all shared a bottle of wine on the terrace while I learned a lot more about the plants and Stella.
Stella really does seem super-cool and fiercely independent. They told me many stories of how she was very ahead of her time including having a live-in boyfriend of the last 30 years (many stories there, including his gunpoint escape from the Nazis). And while MIRACLE IN RWANDA
(the show that Leslie Lewis and I created and in which she shines brilliantly) has been performed on six continents, Stella actually managed to visit all seven!
Since I've never really had an official urban garden of my own, I wanted to share the biggest thing I've learned in the last month:
Don't Be Afraid to Cut Things Back:
Everything Grows Back Stronger
The impatiens were frankly a mess, completely sad and neglected since Stella's death a few weeks before.
In theory, I knew they would grow back, but for a few days I resisted cutting everything back to the healthy portions. I think I somehow secretly hoped the plants would "grow around" the brown, mottled leaves without being pruned. Mostly, cutting them back seemed, however illogical this is, too brutal.
Once I took out my scissors, though, and removed everything that wasn't healthy, within a week the impatiens were thriving again. Within 2 weeks they were overflowing.
The same thing happened with the begonias and especially the schefflera.
The schefflera had a lot of leaves that were just kind of hanging in there, not quite thriving yet still mostly alive, and definitely taking up a lot of energy. (I think we can all relate that to something in our lives!) Once I removed the unhappy leaves, major new growth started happening.
Besides the pleasure of all the greenery on my terrace and the ever-changing bursts of fresh color, I've got a constant reminder to not be afraid to remove what's just not working so that the healthy parts can truly thrive. I can trust that things will re-grow, bigger, better, and healthier than before.
Audrey Hepburn said, "To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow."
I think Stella would be pleased that her East Side plants have found their tomorrow directly across the city in their new home. I know I definitely have.
Namaste for Now,