Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
March, 2004
Regional Report

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A morning glory greets another day, and so do I!

Peace in Earth

The day I found out I had breast cancer I went directly to my garden. My darling, wonderful husband dropped everything and came to pick me up from the doctor's office when I called him with the bad news.
"What do you want to do?" he asked. It never even occurred to me that he might be asking the long-term question. "I want to go to the garden," was my reply.

We sat near my tiny community garden plot, holding hands. I couldn't believe that the biopsy had come back positive. I had things to do, for goodness sake. In less than a week I was scheduled to fly to Orlando and host a special at Epcot Center. I didn't have time to have cancer.

When you receive a diagnosis of cancer, time moves in slow motion. There is simply too much information to absorb, and you don't hear a thing after the doctor says the dreaded "C" word. All I wanted to do was run away and hide. Thank goodness I had my garden to disappear into.

It's curious how comforting gardens can be in times of trouble. Chuck and Ricky, my best friends and former coworkers when I was a gardener at Sunset Magazine, often said that we never had anybody from the editorial staff visit the garden unless they were crying. Now I understood why.

There is peace to be found in the stillness of the earth. Things happen slowly in a garden; changes take place over seasons rather than minutes or hours. There is a natural progression, where even death brings life. The fallen nourish the new, and the new become the old in a never-ending cycle. Sitting quietly with my Sweetie beside me, listening to the blue jays squabble and the bees droning, I realized that this life doesn't last forever and that everybody will become compost sooner or later. I remember vividly every single weed I pulled that day, but not one word that the doctor said.

I decided that I absolutely couldn't pass up the opportunity to make $4,000 for three weeks work on the DIY project. If I was going to be down for a while, I needed some money in the bank. I didn't say anything to anybody on the crew while I was working on location, but it was heavy on my mind. I had plenty of time to think about what I wanted to do while I was alone in my hotel room in Florida.
In hindsight, my decision to remove both breasts may have been radical, but when you consider my background as a gardener, perhaps you will understand why I decided to go the mastectomy route instead of having a lumpectomy and radiation.

Gardeners are taught, not born. I learned pruning from an expert Mexican gardener named Isodore Garcia while I was working with the City of Napa Parks Department. Isodore was a round little fellow, jolly as Santa. He was the best gardener I ever knew, and he had a deep respect for the earth. Isodore taught me how to be a gardener, not just a park maintenance worker.

Pruning in parks is different than pruning in a home garden. For one thing, we took off much more foliage than a home gardener would because we didn't expect to get back to that particular park for many months. Another difference is that we pruned a mile or more of oleanders or raphiolepis at one time. We had to be quick and we had to be thorough. Isodore taught me where to cut and what side of the clippers to use. He said that if you could hang your hat on a stub, you had left too much, and he explained why: "Sucker growth will form if you leave a stub." He explained why it was important to cut away the diseased wood to save the rest of the plant.

With Isodore as my mentor, my inclination was to prune away the diseased part of the plant, only this time I was the plant. I didn't want the sucker growth (cancer) to ever reappear, so I decided on the dramatic pruning job.

Isn't it amazing how life changes? One minute you're hoeing weeds, the next you're a television star, and then, viola! you're having cancer surgery. I'm thankful every single day for my life and my garden that saved me.

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