The World is Your Garden

A garden follows you wherever you go. It branches out to the soil of friends and neighbors in the form of cuttings and divisions, and when you leave your own patch of soil it also follows, uprooted and shaken up, but ready to start life anew under any circumstances. In 2008 I planted 'the rainforest garden' for my mother, who had lost her ability to walk after complications of a brain stem stroke, a broken back and other ailments. The garden started as a humble patch of soggy dirt against the fence, but quickly grew into something wonderful.

Parrot Notecard, mixed media. My mom does several of these notecards every day.

Our sheltie Panda loves to sit on the patio and feel the breeze

Every week my wife and I visit my mom, and each time I bring in something from the garden for my mom to enjoy. Yes, I'm a grown man, and yes, my wife gets flowers too, but no one really appreciates those minute details like my mother. When I divide gingers or bordergrass, she wants to sniff the pungent and earthy aroma of the bruised roots and feel the texture of the crumbling dirt around the roots. She makes arrangements out of the most mundane sticks and leaves, and delights in the texture of a morning glory or the shrill song of a tree frog. She is without a doubt the happiest person I'll ever meet. She is about to lose her home and her garden, and she is overjoyed nonetheless, excitedly telling me about her distorting wounds and inflated legs as if they're miracles. They really are. She should not be alive, and she knows it.

She lives alone with her sheltie and spends each day hard at work creating art, teaching lessons and blogging about all the things she's thankful for. Since she has no car, she drives her motorized wheelchair to a Publix a few miles away for whatever groceries she can fit in her lap, waving at befuddled kids along the way with a radiant smile. When I visited today with the rest of her groceries, she told me about the severe cellulitus infections in her legs dismissively before changing the subject to the progress of her piano students, how much she loves my wife or the simple joys of drinking tea in the garden with her dog. I'm telling you, nothing gets her down. Doubt and fear pay the occasional visit, but it doesn't last for long.

I have been planting nothing but bulbs, rhizomes, corms and tubers for a while now. I have not broken ground on new beds or planted any trees, and you've probably noticed that the focus of my blog has dramatically shifted away from 'the rainforest garden' at my mother's house. I've known that foreclosure was coming since my parents separated in May, just about a week before my wife and I were married.

She's not the only one facing foreclosures, nor is she the the only one going through a nasty divorce or life threatening illnesses. Life is unfair. Just don't tell my mom that life isn't just, because she'll never believe it til the day she dies. We can do nothing and feel sorry for ourselves, or we can make the choice to create, work and smile every day and do something great with our lives.

Steve's Guana, Acrylic

Mandarin Boat Ramp, Acrylic.

My mother earns enough from home to support herself, even though she literally finds it hard to get out of bed because her legs are so swollen from cellulitus infections that they can barely bend. Her back is broken from the steroids that keep her alive, and the medicine treating those infections worsens the infections in her stomach. Her whole body is in an impossibly delicate balance between life and death, and a careless scratch on her leg can become an angrily red grotesque monster in a matter of minutes. I've seen this happen myself, a lot.

I took this photo of my my mom at the Mayo Clinic parking lot a couple weeks ago. The subject was originally the fall crepe myrtle leaves, but I looked down and saw my mom gazing at the same leaves in wonder and took a picture of her instead, since it sums her up so nicely. Even her own illness is beautiful to her. She regards the horribly twisted and mutated growths on her own body with the same fascination that she sees in a knobbly ginger root. With an attitude like that, how could anyone possibly be sad? When every day is your garden; every parking lot median, every butterfly and every weed in the concrete magical, you will always find joy.

I dug up the turmeric roots in the last post so that they could be planted at my mother in law's house so that my wife's own mother will soon have a rainforest garden of her own. I can't dig up the tabebuia and orchid trees and the other common trees and shrubs might be more trouble than they're worth. All of the gingers, alocasias, cannas and other roots can be cut back and lifted, the bromeliads can be brought along for the ride, and I'll just have to try and rescue my treasured palms in the front yard. I'll leave plenty for the next owners, don't worry!

These passionflowers are blooming on a heavily fruiting holly tree in the back yard

The sleepy hibiscus plant is exploding into bloom, just in time for Christmas

My mother won't be without a garden, because every day will be a garden for her to embrace and nurture. Who knows! Maybe she'll own a home again someday and I'll have bulbs and divisions in standby mode, but until then every view and fragrance wherever will be hers for the taking, wherever she may be. Happiness is a choice, and Nancy Asbell's mind is made up.


  1. Beautiful thank you for this share Merry Christmas to you and yours and know I am honored to be growing in the #VirtualGarden of life with you. Annie

  2. What a beautiful, inspiring tribute to your mom, Steve. I am in awe of her, and her attitude of gratitude. Please give her a gentle hug from me.

  3. Hi Steve...Debra Lee just turned me on to this story. It is beautifully written and from the heart. I remember that you and I had a conversation about her last year. She is a remarkable woman.

    I am doing a series on GGW on Mothers. Check it out and if you'd like to participate, I would love to include this story. Contact me at:

    Have a magnificent holiday Steve. Warmly, Fran

  4. I, too, found this blog via DLB. I hope you don't mind if I share it with others. You and your mother are incredibly fortunate to recognize so much beauty and so much love. Thank you so much for sharing life through her eyes.

  5. What a nice tribute to your mom. Very inspirational truth about finding joy. May you and your family have a Merry Christmas in the midst of all the changes.

  6. Merry Christmas, Steve
    Thank you for all of the thoughtful messages you send our way.
    Here's to a great 2012 with lots of plants and stories...a a big dose of HOPE.
    Hang in there,
    David/ Tropical Texana

  7. This is a lovely post... My respects and admiration for your mother's spirit and passion towards everything in life and nature. I am from India, and we have many beliefs here around growing and using turmeric at home. For ages, we have believed it to be the cure for many ills. I am sure having plants like the hibiscus, tumeric and ginger at home will do a lot of good and will bring good health to your mother.

  8. Happy New Year, Steve! I wish you and your family more blessings of love, joy, health and prosperity this coming new year.

  9. I hope your family had a wonderful Christmas Steve. I hope that in the coming year the world looks brighter. Even though it sounds like your Mom is such a bright spot herself. I hope she feels better in the coming year. Best wishes!

  10. I have just found this article. I am absolutely amazed. Your mum has a beautiful spirit and you are a wonderful son.


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