A new piece of paper, please.

Growing up, I loved art class with a passion. I lived for the moments spent each week in that classroom at the end of the hall at Central Avenue School, tucked away as if it was an afterthought. Instead, the art room was more like the center of everything in my world and where all of my senses came alive...the scent of tempura paints dried around the rims of the plastic containers...the texture of prickly brushes crammed into a mason jar...the feel of tissue paper as thin as poppy petals. And the colors. Bright colors, lots of colors, millions of possibilities, like wildflowers.

But even in third grade, I wanted all of my artistic outpourings to be perfect, or at least perfect to me. I wanted them to come out exactly as I saw them in my mind. And when it didn't come out that way, or just when I felt I needed to start fresh, I loved the freedom of asking for a new piece of paper.

And that is what I love about gardening. Gardening is forgiving. We start with a blank piece of paper, and each year right before the last frost, we get a new one with which to begin again.

"More than anything, I must have flowers always, always."
~ Claude Monet

Before we had our home, we borrowed a friend's backyard where he generously allowed us to dig up a patch of soil and plant some vegetables. Bless our hearts, we were so desperate to grow something - anything - that first year that we drove across Dallas a few times a week just to visit and water our fragile seedlings. I'm almost positive we had no idea what we were doing then, and no matter what happens now, it has to be better than harvesting one single cucumber, which is all we got in the summer of 2006.

That fall, we moved into our home and stood on the back steps overlooking our positively blank piece of Texas soil - a perfect square with a bit of grass and an old brick patio framed by a new wooden fence. I knew one thing - I wanted flowers. Lots of 'em.

But that winter of 2007, a fire pit and some tiki torches was the best we could do.

Come spring, we tried our hand at a small square-foot garden with a few marigolds and some very sad tomatoes.

Then, on Christmas Day 2007, we really started digging. We first started digging up the brick patio to form flower beds {landscaping edging isn't cheap, you know}. I attacked weeds so fierce that they bit back, throwing me to the ground, leaving me with a few shredded leaves in my fist, the stubborn weed still firmly planted in its place. And oh, the "treasures" we unearthed, decades of debris - old pieces of shag carpet, bent spoons, plastic action figures, and even a cat skull {sorry, kitty}. But little by little, it took shape...

{december 2007}

{march 2008}

{summer 2008}

{now: spring 2009}

I never knew how building and growing something from scratch would teach me so much about life and patience and hope. Yes, hope. We are hopeful that the time we've spent building this together will be an investment into our marriage and into the people we love who finally get to exhale and relax in the red hammock after a tough day. We are hopeful that we'll cook a meal for someone with the tomatoes we grew from a seed starter in the dead of winter. We are hopeful that our labor will turn into something useful...and beautiful.

In the garden, I've spent quiet hours with my own thoughts {much like those moments in art class when the entire classroom was hushed and hovered over their pieces of paper}. I've watched my husband as he so diligently and meticulously plants vegetable seeds, reminding me of another reason I married this caring man. Our garden is a home for birds, a haven of rest, the site of laughter over a camp fire, and a place where hymns are sung on guitar.

It's our fourth year of trying, and we're certainly not pro's, but we've figured some things out. I'm fairly sure we won't try to grow wildflowers in the shade anymore, and I won't step my ruby red Crocs into any more red ant piles {owie}.

But the most important thing I've learned is that in the garden, if you mess up, that's okay. Just clear the land, amend the soil, and start again. It's okay to be creative and to just be yourself and to ask for a new piece of paper. Please.