The Name’s Digger. Grave Digger.

A single clematis bloom winds up the honeysuckle bush that popped up between my deck and fence. I was too lazy to pull out the honeysuckle when I first noticed the growth. It’s now over 14′ tall. I am not a gardener.

Spring is here and I miss my mother in law.

My mother in law had the best garden in the history of all gardens that ever were and all that will ever be. Her garden was chaotic and beautiful. Her garden cut a wide swathe along the perimeter of her yard. I will forever associate echinacea with my mother in law.

I loved her garden and I miss her. Losing Bonnie left a hollow spot in my heart. I have felt her loss in a way I’ve experienced only a few times. Losing a cousin and then an aunt felt like this.

I wish I had taken the time to learn more about gardening when I had the chance. I have never shaken being a tiny bit mad at myself for squandering the 12 years I had with her. All I had to do was ask and, she not only would have patiently taught me all I needed to know, she would have been thrilled to do so. Now, that time has passed and I missed out.

I am so much not a gardener. It would be more accurate to call me a grave digger than a gardener. Spring is a time a renewal and life, unless you are a plant and I have purchased you. Then it’s your time of dying.

I’ve killed them all. I have killed lilac bushes and blackberry bushes. I’ve killed all manner of flower and hydrangeas. I could not successfully grow morning glories, a noxious weed, along my back fence.  Although I do appear to be a dandelion success. Thistle grows nicely, in noticeable but hard to reach places.

I have killed bulbs, vines, and a holly bush. I killed pampas grass and that came with a bonus.

Randy dug a hole for the pink pampas grass and as I pulled the grass out of the greenhouse pot, dirt and fire ants rained down on my shin and foot. I was bit dozens of times. Weeks passed before those bites faded. I spent most of the Summer with my right foot and lower leg looking diseased.

It’s not that I want to kill the plants. I don’t want to kill them. I don’t wake up in the morning and demonically laugh while plotting planticide. It’s more like I have to kill the plants.

I might be a serial plant killer.

Now, I have this little rosebush. I very much would like not killing my rosebush. A friend gave it to me for mother’s day. The flowers are red with white dripping over the petals. My friend said the roses reminded her of me.

I haven’t had many instances in my life where I have been compared to a flower, so I mean it when I say I would like to not kill my roses.

My current plan is to transplant the roses in a bigger pot, keep them on the deck, and then try to keep them alive indoors over the winter. After it gets a little bigger, I’ll plant it next Spring.

So, you will be available for a plant funeral next year, right? I’m thinking around late April.

If Bonnie were still alive, she’d help me with my rose bush.

3 months to the day after Bonnie died, I was with Randy’s family. It would have been Bonnie’s 66th birthday. My sister in law had a tattoo artist at her house that day. I got a blue star on my wrist. Bonnie’s star.

I couldn’t fathom the pain Randy and his sisters felt after their mother died. I had my own pain, though. It hurt so bad to lose her.

Eight years ago, maybe a few months after I got my tattoo, I had an incredibly lucid dream about Bonnie. Randy and I were with his sister and her husband and we were in New York City. We came out of a house and walked down some stairs to the sidewalk and Bonnie was sitting on the steps. She wore a light green cotton shirt and I ran my fingers over her shoulder blade as I walked past her. I could feel a mole under the cloth. The dream was so real.

No one else seemed to see her but me. We started to walk down the sidewalk and I turned and looked at Bonnie and said “I can see you”. She smiled at me. I couldn’t see her eyes because she was wearing her glasses that got dark in the sun. She said “I can see you too.”

I am not religious. I am highly skeptical of any sort of afterlife. The best description I can give about my beliefs are that I’m agnostic with a strong leaning toward atheism. I really don’t think there is a higher being, but what the fuck do I know? I’m not the smartest motherfucker here.

That being said, I kind of feel like I saw my mother in law in that dream.

Even if I didn’t? That’s what I will choose to believe.

I think she would be proud that even though I have continued to fail as a gardener, I never give up.


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  • I am also very much not a gardener. I’ve indirectly or accidentally killed each potted thing that has come into my care as an adult. I do much better with the dog, who is not a plant.

    When we bought our house, not a whole lot of vegetation already existed around it, and it’s the kind that’s self sufficient. I guess it’s technically weeds, especially if you don’t…groom it in some way. Which we mostly don’t. We hack shit down when it gets in the way,and leave it alone when it doesn’t. Occasionally bright orange poppies crop up, migrants helped along by birds from a yard three blocks over. Tiger lilies and daffodils sometimes bloom on the back hill, but that’s technically the neighbor’s land, not ours.

    I like honeysuckles. They make me think of distilled summer. If we had one here, I’m sure it would draw bees that would sting somebody, and that’s a fun killer, but I like pulling the nectar out of the blossoms. And I like the stories that angelic visitations are frequently accompanied by the scent of honeysuckles.

  • This is a beautiful tribute to your mil.
    I am not a gardener either, but I do seem to have a good track record with cacti.

    Recently I have taken to planting flowers on the back deck that attract the hummingbirds. A few small flower boxes. It is doable.

    And every morning when I pinch off the dead blooms I think of my mother who used to do that particular ritual every morning. It helps me feel connected to a mother that I struggled to be in relationship with while she was alive.

    It is becoming easier to think kindly of her now that she has passed. – The flower boxes help.

  • When I was a little kid, we had a half-acre vegetable garden, and I was always getting in trouble for eating the peas and radishes when I was supposed to be watering. So I got some seeds and a spade and made my own little garden in the corner of a different pasture.
    I planted peas, radishes and carrots. I got in a little bit of trouble because the peas grew up the fence post I planted them next to, and vines on livestock fencing are a no-no. I think I was six.
    My mom (both of my parents, really) could grow anything. She liked her rose bushes and her rhododendrons. The only thing I ever saw her try to grow and not succeed, was asparagus, which never turned into anything edible, and instead morphed into something that looked like a fern. I have a lot of fond memories of watching her build the little mounds that you grow squash and potatoes on. As an adult, the only thing I was successful growing was pot, and that took me several tries. I had a potted coleus plant that I liked a lot, but it committed suicide out of my second story window, which surprised me, as it had always looked so cheerful…

  • I was always green fingered but am without a garden now and I really miss that.
    Some plants won’t survive no matter what you do, those indoor roses are tricky and seldom survive more than a couple of seasons so don’t feel bad if it does decide to quit on you.

    Wish I could come and help, I could probably give you a few tips I’ve picked up over the years.

    Loved growing chillies, peppers and all sorts of herbs and vegetables as well as the flowers and shrubs, landscaped a couple of gardens from scratch at two of my new built homes, but that was then…

    Glad you had a nice MIL, it makes such a difference.
    Mine was not, still no matter as she’s no longer my problem!

  • I would love to be able to grow anything, unfortunately I have killed every plant I have ever had! Unless it was plastic, lol.
    I loved your touching tribute to your MIL.

  • Roses are remarkably tough things. We live on a windswept piece of dirt by the surf… Harsh and salty… But when we moved here 3 years ago, I brought a rose that had always been in a pot and planted it, then crossed our fingers and hoped. It has survived and still blooms.
    I don’t think it will survive if you bring it inside, though. Just leave it on the verandah/deck where it is a little sheltered. Also, they don’t mind if you forget to water them and then give them a drenching. They quite like that.
    What a lovely gift a living rose is… You must have been delighted and flattered.
    Thank you for a lovely post. Heartfelt and touching.

  • I have killed hostas and pine trees and every other hearty plant I have had. I had a grandfather with a green thumb, not sure how l happen to get a black thumb.

  • Very touching, Michelle. And I kill everything (plants!) too. The plants my now deceased grandma gave me, the little herb plant my mom gave me, the hardy plant from my grandpa’s funeral, and even the unkillable ivy plant I got from my sister. Hmm.. looks like you’re not the only serial plant killer. Good luck with the roses!!

  • I believe that our family is with us. I have had moments when I know my grandmother is with me. I will talk to her as I cook sometimes and I will feel someone else in the room. I could be crazy, or I could choose to think of it as a ‘gift’ of some sort. I will always be connected to her and am glad to still feel her around even if it is not ‘real’. I have managed to kill every cacti I have been gifted but have somehow managed to keep a certain plant alive in my house for the past 4 years!! WTF?! Maybe grandma has something to do with it…

  • I am not a ‘crystals and incense’ type, but I absolutely believe those who have passed can come back to us, especially when we need to know that THEY know we miss them and love them.
    As to your flowers – maybe you are loving them TOO much?! I have a strict I plant em – God (or Mother Nature or Al Gore or whatever earth-care-giver you chose) does the rest. I have never grown roses, but not sure about the bringing them in during the winter will work. My feeling is they need to be in the ground this summer so the roots can get established before winter hits. Then this fall, mulch them like crazy.

    • I am NOT over loving them. I’m hit and miss when it comes to gardening.

      Yeah, I think I’m going to have to find a place for my little roses. Still deciding where.

  • I think I would’ve really liked your mil. She could’ve helped me sustain plant life in my immediate vicinity. I’m not terrible with plants, but I obviously don’t have a green thumb. When I was old enough to know better, I dug up tons of my mum’s bulbs, proclaiming, “LOOK! I FOUND ONIONS!” I did have a couple of pretty amazing flower gardens years ago when I lived in what could be considered the Canadian tropics (southern Ontario, near Detroit). Anything grows there, no effort required. I’m sure you harbour no ill-will towards our leafy counterparts, you’ve just got butcher’s blood (me too!). Last week as I was walking home on a beautiful warm day (Spring’s late this year), I witnessed a murder. A guy came out onto his 3rd floor balcony and whipped a potted plant down onto the street, just ahead of me. WTF? I still have lurking guilt over not picking up the little plant, which looked like it still had a fighting chance. I was just too lazy. Also, sometimes a DNR order is the best thing when the only option is a dry, slow death on my windowsill. (BTW, I’m sure the bastard wasn’t trying to hit me with the pot.) Anyway, I’m sending positive vibes to you and your rose plant. From your description, I kinda pictured a white rose that was, umm, sorta bleeding. (??) I know, I have issues.

    • We ALL have issues. 🙂

      I’m glad you didn’t get beaned with the plant. I always feel bad when I throw out a plant that is in it’s death throes but not quite dead. I feel like I am accumulating bad plant karma points.

  • I love your writing style and the content you’ve written. I dabble in mostly vegetable gardening – sometimes works, sometimes doesn’t. And just because it’s encouraged, I’ll throw in the word “shithead.” Just because I’m mad at my husband today and he is being just that – a shithead… : )

  • Are they the mini roses that come in the little pots that you can sometimes find in the supermarket? I’m kind of a planticidal maniac myself but our house had 4 big rosebushes in front to which I added a couple Home Depot and they never die no matter how much I neglect them. I even planted half a dozen mini roses in a small spot next to the steps and they have (almost) all come back every year for the past few years.

    That was a lovely dream. I feel the same way. My father only appears to me in dreams and not as often as I would like. He never speaks to me; just laughs at me & hugs me while I cry into his chest. I could even smell his aftershave. That dream was around 4-5 years ago already.

    • It really was a lovely dream. I never had another one. I hope your dream repeats itself.

      And thanks for giving me hope for my little rosebush. 🙂

  • I love my garden and walk through it several times a day. But, like you I have killed many plants. As I have grown older, I have learned that plants don’t like to be bothered too much. Don’t over water and just let them be. Like small children, they eat better when they are very hungry. Most of all celebrate the small stuff…sometimes one blossom is more exciting that a whole yard full of blooms.

    Be well. I think I would have loved your mother-in-law.


  • Long ago, in a galaxy far away, I got a degree in horticulture and had a career as a garden designer.

    I don’t tell people that any more, because they expect me to have a nice yard. I don’t. I keep the front looking decent, for my neighbors’ sake, but the back looks like a scene from Mad Max. If Mad Max had an empty wadded up, moldy, above-ground swimming pool, and lots of dog shit in it.

    I can still give advice, though! I interned at a rose test garden about a billion years ago, and I still remember a thing or two. I will totally help you keep your rose alive!

    • Yay! Okay, here is my plan. I am going to dig a hole in my front yard after I pull out a bunch of out of control lamb’s ear and then I’m going to plant it there. Full sun.

      • That’s a good start. Water it really well when your done, and regularly after that-especially if you live somewhere (unlike me) where it isn’t still pissing rain for half of the week. The water part is why I have only plants that can survive with very little of it my yard…I can barely remember to take a shower, let alone water needy plants during the summer. Succulents and Yucca are everywhere.

        Anywho, roses have chemical dependency issues because they get so many kinds of fungus and bugs. Keep an eye out for white/black, dusty looking stuff on your rose. If you see it, pick/cut off the part where it is and try not to let it touch the healthy parts on it’s way out. It’s bad, and it spreads. Aphids are the first bug you’ll probably see, depending on where you live. I’ve never found anything to be more effective than blasting the little fuckers off with the spray nozzle on my hose. Good luck!

  • M,

    Loved this heart felt story about Bonnie. Thanks for sharing it.

    Thanks for sharing all you do. Makes us all feel like we are not alone with the crazy shit we do and think.


  • Right there with ya, sister! I can’t keep a plant alive to save my life. I always see those commercials at the beginning of spring…Home Depot, you know the one where the couple is buying all the dirt and flowers and digging and smiling and, BOOM!, gorgeous flowery stuff everywhere. I get so excited and think this will be my year. Yeah.

    Maybe next year.

    That said, your words about your mother in law are beautiful. She must have been a very special lady. I’m so sorry she’s no longer with you. You believe anything you want and keep your dream. It was lovely.

  • This really was a lovely way to remember Bonnie.

    For what it’s worth, I too, kill every plant that ever comes near me. I tell my kid I have a brown thumb, and please not to buy me any plants for mother’s day.

  • I make extra income as a landscape designer and I also do garden maintenance; but every year a garden will teach me something by way of a plant failure! And then there are some plants that fail and I learn nothing except they are a whole lot smarter than I am–so they make it to my no-fucking-way-will-I-try-this-plant-again list.

    I have also had a unique experience in “feeling” my mother’s presence about 4 months after she passed. I also have difficulty with organized religion, belief of the life after death concept etc. My education is science (medical world) so that made it even more difficult. But feeling my Mom’s presence was real. It was the most beautiful, peaceful, comforting warmth I will probably ever experience. So, I have decided to go with it and be thankful and stop making myself schizophrenic in trying to find answers. I read the book “Forever Ours” by Janis Amatuzio, MD and would recommend it if you get the chance. Her second book, “Beyond Knowing” is also wonderful. Your Mother-in-law came to you in a dream, it was real–I say go with it even if there is no friggin explanation!

  • Remember that a weed is just a plant that grows where you don’t want it to. And I found it very striking that you began with a clematis winding up a honeysuckle bush. Honeysuckle kills the plants that grow around it. The clematis survives in spite of that. The clematis blooms. It is, perhaps, the memory of your mother-in-law’s garden in a new form. It persists against the odds, against the forces that should kill it.

    And learn to love the dandelions.

    • Yeah, we have a HUGE honeysuckle growth between our yard and next door at the back of the yard and I can’t plant anything back there.

      We do have a tenacious clematis.

  • I loved how you wove everything together in this post — your lack of a gardening gene, your beautiful rose bush that you would rather not kill, and your connection with Bonnie (who sounds like a wonderful woman and gardener).

    If it gives you any hope, I’ve found that roses are difficult to kill — even when you are trying to do so. We had several rose bushes in our front yard when we bought our home — but they had not been tended and were sprawly and ugly. I decided to take them out when we re-did the front yard and we dug them up — root and all (or so we thought). For the next three years, those roses would send up new shoots every spring. I’d chop them off and dig up more of the root — and then the next spring, up they would come again.

  • A Rose by any other name is still a Rose, aka: do you know what kind of rose you have? Is it a Tea Rose? Let’s assume it is. Plant it in the ground. Roses don’t overwinter well indoors in pots. They LIKE a rest during the winter. They also like tightly packed earth around them so when you dig the hole, pack it down. Don’t bury the ‘graft’ below the surface of the dirt. The graft is that round hump at the bottom of the main stalk- keep that above ground. If you can, water from underneath. Water on the leaves can cause disease. Like any plant they need water, but roses don’t like to ‘swim’. Let them almost dry-out between waterings. Give your rose room to breath. They like air circulation. They like Sun. Cut your roses. They love to be cut. Look down the stem, below the bloom, until you find the second set of 5 leaves and cut there. When it’s time to put the garden ‘to bed’ for the winter, heavily mulch around the base so that roots don’t heave if you have perma-frost in your area. In the spring trim your rose to ‘shape’ it, cutting back dead stalks, and any suckers that may have sprung from below the graft. Fertilize in the spring, and play it Mozart. They love Classical music. *wink*

  • You have to write 50 Shades of Green–that comment cracked me up! Everyone would enjoy that. Especially us plant killers. Yup, hate to admit it but fortunately for me, I married a guy with a verdant thumb. As far as seeing Bonnie, well I definitely believe she came to say hello but I’m : *whispering* Christian and we tend to believe. I know what you’re thinking. Don’t think it. Just accept that Bonnie’s love is always around you. Maybe she’ll visit you again!

  • I’ve had an experience like that. Very real and NOT like a dream. More of a visit. Very different experience from dreaming about a person. Someone told me it’s called a visitation

    • Oh wow. I have never heard of that before, but you are right, it wasn’t like a dream at all. Very different feel. I still remember it vividly.

By Michelle


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