The flowers sat on my front porch. Right in the center of my doormat from Target. The one that says HOME. There’s a red heart where the “O” should be.
When I opened the door, my inhale was as sharp as a knife. I knew they were coming, but that still didn’t prepare me for this Arrival of the Fittest. A pretty pink package of petals.
I’ve always been a sucker for hydrangeas.
I bent down and picked up the box of my new flower babies, stumbling at their weight.
“Daisy, look what we got,” I sing-songed as I shut the door. I set the flowers on the table. Daisy yawned. I looked down at the plants. “They’re beautiful.”
There were four in total. I ordered them online through Kayla. Her family owns the local greenhouse, and they were having an Easter sale. She sent me a message after I commented on her Facebook status.
“So funny story I posted that picture of the hydrangeas on my page and I seriously said to myself Lindsay Henry is going to buy these I know it!! And then you commented!”
“Omg you get me, haha”
“Totally!! If you wanna place an order with me, I’d be happy to drop them off to you. I’m delivery for FREE!”
It was the beginning of April. The world was quarantined, limited by our liabilities to make each other sick. Like many people stuck in the middle of the pandemic, I beat the blues by honing in on home improvement projects.
A week before, I glanced at the ground from my living room windows. The grass and dirt were as patchy as a middle-age man’s head. Cars whizzed by, the bass bumping in my chest. An empty farm field sat still, waiting for someone to tell it what would take root this year.
I looked closer at the yard. Barren and boring.
“Hydrangeas,” I said as my eyes scanned the space next to the house. “That’s what needs to go here.” I loved all the other houses that had healthy hydrangea bushes: all big and blooming and thriving.
I could do that, I thought. I could raise some hydrangeas to grow to be big. And blooming. And thriving.
I mean, I never had done it before. But I could try.
I looked down at my thumbs. They weren’t green. Eh. I picked at a stray hangnail.
Then Kayla posted the photo of hydrangeas for sale. And here we were.
Like people, each plant had their own identity: some pinker than others, blushing with embarrassment by their beauty. Some tips were tinged with lime, as if the petals were painted with watercolor. Certain bloom clusters hid behind leaves. Others stared up at me.
For a few weeks, the family of four sat in a parallel line on my dining room table. I felt fancy with these fresh florals as I passed by each morning. Like I was always prepared for some special brunch that would have eggs benedict and fresh berries and buttered toast. Lots of buttered toast.
I also felt worried. These suckers needed to live, or else my outdoor plan of Big, Blooming, Thriving was a bust.
So I took my glass measuring cup because it was the only thing I had with a spout, and I watered the hydrangeas. I checked their petals. Placed my fingertips in their soil. Examined the leaves. Kept them alive.
As the weather got warmer, I picked a weekend to make the Big Move.
I bought mulch and weed barrier.
I measured and marked where each plant would take hold and grow.
I dug circular holes for the hydrangeas’ new homes.
I brushed dirt off my knees and washed soil-soaked hands with Thousand Wishes-scented hand soap.
One by one, I brought each plant out from underneath the ceiling and placed them in the ground to breath the open air. I stood back and took pictures of the progress. I smiled at the pink, replacing dismal and drab with life and color.
I loved them.
Two days later, I went out to the side of my house to check on my happy, pretty plants.
They were not happy and pretty.
The flowers were no longer pink, but a sick, sad shade of brown. The leaves were crunchy. They were shriveled and wrinkled, zapped of everything it once had: life, growth, vibrancy.
I called my mom.
“My hydrangeas are dead,” I told her. “Or, dying, anyway.” I snapped the ponytail holder against my wrist.
“Give them time? Water them?” she suggested. “Maybe the flowers will die but the stems will remain and re-grow once they get used to the new environment.”
“Maybe,” I said. I doubted. I think she did, too. We were looking for the bright side, but it was covered in shadows.
Later, my dad called.
“It’s supposed to get cold tonight,” he said. “I’m not sure if those flowers of yours are going to be OK or not. You better put somethin’ over ‘em.”
I hurried to my garage and glanced around at its contents. No buckets. I didn’t think of bedsheets. I was as green to gardening as my plants were brown.
“Um,” I said, my eyebrows furrowing into a V as I looked around. “This.” I grabbed my two large garbage cans and an old copier paper box from Staples. As I covered my sick plants, I hoped that the containers carried magic that would bring them back to life. Abracadabra.
The next day, I went out to see if the plants had been risen from the nearly-dead. I lifted the lids. Well, they didn’t look great…but wait. I knelt down closer. There, at the stems, was hope in the form of small, emerald leaves.
I took pictures of the stems and showed my co-worker Ashley: a design guru who is an expert in growing vegetable gardens and turning ordinary into pretty.
“Are these dead?” I asked. “Look! Green! They’re not dead, right? That’s a good sign. Right?”
She examined the photo. Paused. “Yeah, I think they’ll be OK,” Ashley determined. She doesn’t say things just to say them. I had hope.
Until another 12 hours passed.
I went back outside. The glimpses of green were gone. The stems were yellowed and bare.
I sighed with defeat, the failure chaining itself to my ankles and weighing me down.
Time of Death: 5:47 p.m.
I kicked myself for not researching hydrangeas enough. I couldn’t believe how quickly they declined. How fast they went from pretty and pink to dead and gone. I averted my eyes (I still do) as I drove by that side of the house. A symbol of my failure. To this day, the bare stems stick out of the ground like skeletons. I haven’t had the heart to remove them.
The hydrangeas are not a complete failure.
They didn’t die because something was wrong with them.
They died because they weren’t meant to thrive in that environment.
As much as the situation was in my hands, it was out of them, too.
The factors didn’t align for their survival: The blasts of heavy sun during the day. The nights that got too cold. The soil that was too dry. And a million different things that couldn’t change the outcome, as much as I wanted it to be different.
I wanted a lot to be different.
Nobody starts something--a job, a relationship, a friendship, a life--thinking it will end. We hope for the to-haves and to-holds…even when the same conversations circle around us like vultures sensing the inevitable.
Who wants to go out without a fight? Not me. Add this, do this, say this, this will help, and this, and this—but it still withers, withers, withers. Cover up the concerns with a different type of veil and believe it’s enough to protect it from the cold. Still, it withers, withers, withers. You make the calls. Check the clock. Ask, talk, listen, pray. Count the petals: He loves me, he loves me not, he loves me, he loves me not.
Though the flowers don’t ask for frost, winter comes and kills anyway. No plants live without nutrients...unless they’re fake.
The signs and quotes and Pinterest boards tell us to “Bloom where you’re planted.” I used to love that saying. Not anymore. They got it backwards.
We need to plant ourselves where we bloom.
Find the places, the people, the jobs that are conducive to our growth.
The ones that make us feel alive.
The ones that help us thrive by not only giving us what we want, but the nourishment we need.
The ones that don’t just stay for the sunshine, but stand right next to you in the rain.
It’s difficult to try to exist—let alone thrive—in a spot where you are not meant to be. Yet we kick ourselves when we start to lose our petals. We strive to grow and come up short. We cover ourselves with magical boxes and hope we’ll emerge good as new.
There is no easy answer button to undo the infiltration. No magic container. No abracadabra to transform the dead into the living.
Letters are sent to houses that people don't call home anymore.
Business cards are thrown away.
Texts are left unanswered.
Photos are deleted in a fit of rage and grief, replaced with regret as you realize their face is gone forever now. Messages are replayed to get the voices out of our heads and cradled in the ear.
Songs follow you around like burglars, taking your breath away while you're picking out avocados, while you're driving through the car wash, while you're getting your teeth cleaned at the dentist.
We become haunted by the people and places that turned into ghosts and left holes as gaping as graves where flowers were supposed to grow.
But a cactus can't thrive in Michigan. An oak tree won't stretch in San Jose. Mother Nature doesn’t ask the plants to excel in every environment—so why should we ask that of ourselves?
My hydrangeas died. I tried my best, and still—my hydrangeas died.
In their death, the roots and leaves go back into the earth. And guess what makes soil more fertile for other things to grow?
I have another hydrangea bush in front of my house. The previous owner—a car salesman named Roger who owns collies with his wife and wears button downs and says “Hi Lindsay” and smiles when I see him at the gas station—planted it there before I moved in.
I don’t water it.
I don’t stress about it.
I don’t put copier paper boxes over it.
I let it be.
The leaves are rich and green. The flowers are a nice, soft purple. It loses leaves in the fall. It grows back in the spring. It’s beautiful because it’s meant to be there. It doesn’t have to work hard to be itself. It’s getting what it needs. Right there. Exactly where it is. Being exactly what it should be, where it should be, as it should be.
It’s big. Blooming. Thriving.