Azalea Land

Our yard was not perfect but it was beautiful. My childhood home in middle Georgia sat on a woodsy lot of pine trees and brambles with a gravel driveway that ran up a hill from the street. Under the pine trees, everywhere, there were azaleas.

My mother loved azaleas. My parents, together, worked tirelessly in the yard most weekends. My dad mowed the lawn and helped my mother with whatever gardening plans she schemed:

 Let’s move the small trees on the side of the house to a new spot.

Let’s pull up all the monkey grass in the front.

Let’s plant more azaleas.

More azaleas. One friend of my mother’s good-naturedly dubbed our plot “Azalea Land.” And yes, maybe a landscape architect would have pulled back on the azaleas and come armed with a set of carefully drawn-out plans. But ours was not a meticulously-manicured lawn. No, this was my mother’s soul symphony—whimsical and woody, with firecracker blossoms, leggy vines and rare, native plants. No clean symmetrical lines in our yard. Mom’s gardening practices taught me an important lesson about the creative life—it’s in the practice and not the perfect. Mom wasn’t afraid to dig in, get dirty and revel in the process. When spring came, ours was the yard that dazzled with azalea blossoms. 

My parents moved away from my childhood home almost two decades ago. Mom’s garden is a coastal one now, with oak trees and Spanish moss. Camellias. Still, there are azaleas. Recently, I asked her about the azaleas at our childhood home.

“Do you think they are still there?”

“No,” Mom said, “they’ve probably cut them down and replaced them with grass.”

“Hopefully not,” I countered but realized that mom was probably right. Things change.

But the place exists in my mind the way it did then. Every year, I see azaleas in full glory around town and memories bloom in my heart. I’m reminded of mom’s lesson, taught through her gardening practices.

Live out the art in your life. Let it be messy, imperfect and beautiful.