Earlier this week I took a few moments to explore the latest spring growth in my lily garden.
Four years ago, I had planted two types of lilies, some veronica, and several patches of thyme in an alternating pattern in a desiccated, rocky-soiled, neglected patch of Earth abutting the side of my cottage. Though I had added dozens of pounds of new, high-nutrient potting soil before putting in the plants, that fifty-square-foot garden area has required ample tending three seasons a year: weeding, watering, cutting back the plants in autumn, adding more bags of soil.
And the careful observation of who eats the fresh lilies (slugs of many sorts), which plants are thriving, and which need pruning.
Last fall, perhaps motivated by a year of covid isolation, and a persistent need for beauty, I impulsively decided to remove as much of the veronica and thyme as I could before winter set it; the straggling twigs of these two plants had become too thick, with few flowers or leaves, and the original aesthetic had vanished two years before; in short, they were unsightly.
But those lily varieties have become monstrous and lush! Even with the pre-winter “buzz cut” that takes their four-foot height back to a few inches, they return each spring with a fervor for life. The bulbs have multiplied so they have essentially taken over the entire space. They love their crowded conditions.
I also think they love the robins who are finally in full-volume spring chorus.
I believe they enjoy the pale golden sunrise and still-chilly nights.
I am confident that they whisper sweet nothings to the frog who visits annually, climbing their heights, posing for my photographs.
I am sure they call in the slugs: we have a cozy place for you under our tall stalks and will offer ourselves as nourishment to you – more than you and your families can consume.
I have wondered if they sing a vigil to the birds who have fallen into their leaves after hitting a window, some of whom never flew away again. Some of who I buried with wreaths of flowers in other parts of the yard. Two years ago, a few baby juncos perished – one in the shed and one in the driveway; I reverently placed them together in a grave beneath the lilies.
Birds as nutrients for soil holding lilies.
Lilies as shelter or final resting place or soft cushion upon which birds can land.
There are many ways in which these cycles carry on: I am part of it too with my careful watching of returning swallows or nest boxes being inhabited or lilies growing tall green stalk-highways for all manner of crawling beings or red, yellow, orange blossoms emerging out of the thick green plants or flocks of juncos foraging on the ground a few feet away from the lily garden – some of whom are, no doubt, last year’s fledglings.
I also saw this the other day for the first time too: a new clump of daylily that was pushing up the soil. Not pushing up through the soil. Pushing up the soil; I saw a small clod of soil move an iota at the edge of the daylily sprout. These weightlifter lilies are reverse-excavating so that they, too, can birdwatch, bloom, feel the warmth of the coming sun, receive the rain (or my incessant summer watering).
This garden has been a site of life-affirming and death-honoring transitions. The lilies are not just sprouting, growing, budding, blooming, and dying back each year. They are intimately interconnected with a much broader community of beings, with me and the slugs and the birds and the frog, with spiders, worms, a butterfly, one or two bees …
Oh, the glory!