When my husband placed the orange plant in the low ceramic bowl on the deck bench at the start of spring, I assumed it was a stop-gap measure, a rescue plant, something to sit there until he’d planted something beautiful to take its place. This succulent had no flowers, and had been the last surviving remnant of a prior summer’s succulent display. The lifeless leaves drooping off the bottom section of the center stems led me to believe it wasn’t long for this world. I resigned myself to looking at its dried-out, long and stringy appearance until either it died or its replacement arrived. Morning coffee in hand, I stared at it daily through the living room French doors. Ho-hum, if I have to.
Then something amazing happened. With every spring rain, every sunny day and every bit of fertilizer, this plant, whose fronds swooped and swayed like Donald Trump’s hair, grew, filling the pot that had at first been 2/3 empty. As other pots full of geraniums, marigolds, and four-o’clocks arrived, Old Orange transformed into a lush beauty right before my eyes, his stems greening, then turning to amber, as they rose from the pot. I began to look forward to seeing him every morning, his golden assertion a vivid contrast to the blue-potted beauties surrounding him.
Nothing is a coincidence. We’re meant to see what we do, so I always look for the gift in my observations. The lesson I gleaned is this: In your gardens and in life, pay attention to the oddballs, and keep them close to you. If you do, they’ll grow on you.
Shucking and Sloughing
Our front walkway flowerbed was a mess, a mass of dessicated, droopy dead daffodil blades, numerous weeds of the huge and habitual variety, and spider webs full of insect parts. Clean-up day arrived, and I was armed and ready. I pulled and yanked, trimmed and tossed. I dug, finding a plethora of sowbugs and their basketball-shaped mommies. (We’ve overdosed on sowbugs this season. Enough already!)
Halfway through my tidying, I found the cutest thing. At first I thought it was a sloughed-off snakeskin and I was loathe to touch it. I noticed, though, it was short, so because of myopia and cataracts, I picked it up and held it close to my eyes to get a better look. Aha!
In my hand lay the shed skin of a newt, the outer wrapping of his little platypus bill-shaped head, his wee arms waving in the wind, and his stump of a tail. I wondered how it happened—did he brush up against a tough stem and wriggle? Did it take hours to happen or did he just keep walking right on out of his skin? How did he know it was time for a change?
I consulted the internet then and there, right handy on the phone in my pocket, (which I keep there when I’m outside because I see cool things and it has a camera). On YouTube, I watched a newt shedding his skin and saw he used the items in his aquarium to rub up against. More Googled information told me that shedding is a process controlled by hormones from the pituitary and thyroid glands. Newts rub the skin down from their head, where shedding starts at the mouth, to their waist, then reach around, grab the roll in their mouth and pull it off their hind legs and tail. Or they use a series of wriggles and once the hind limbs are extracted they push the skin farther back until the tail, which is pressed down, removes the rest of it by friction. I was lucky to find the skin from our resident newt because apparently it’s common practice for a newt to eat his shed skin. A shed skin is a true, thin shadow of its former self.
At the end of the bed, I removed the bottom portion of the downspout and the flat catcher that diverts the water down the sidewalk so I could pull the weeds and dead stuff away. I lifted a large flat stone, and there was Mr. Newt, resplendent in his new skin. He might have been miffed at my disturbing the peace of his dark and damp domicile. He froze for a moment, staring me down. I said hello, and then he gave up the stink eye and wiggled away (as fast as a newt can) to await my departure. I don’t know if there’s a Mrs. Newt because I only ever see one. I suspect, however, there must be, because we’ve enjoyed a resident newt since the first moment we moved here. I hope he’s been eating sowbugs.
I read that newts grow each time they shuck their old skin. Humans do that, too, don’t they? Sloughing off what doesn’t work for us anymore helps us to grow as well.
My snowball bush teaches me the other side of the coin. It’s a tough call to know when to hang on. Every spring the bush blooms, and the wind persists until the blooms are blown away…all but one snowball. Maybe it arrives late so it goes late, but for some reason, one snowball remains a month later than all the others. Maybe it likes hanging out with the blooms of other later-blooming species. Each morning it’s still there, way at the top of the bush, I smile and give it a silent “Atta girl!”
Gardening teaches us important life lessons if we remain aware. This month, I was reminded of three things. Sometimes you wait, sometimes you slough off, and sometimes you hang on.