Two days ago an azalea bush was left outside my front door, with a card. It was only a small thing, well overdue for proper planting out. It was from M---, although she had got her next door neighbour to bring it round to my house. (M--- obviously didn't want to risk an encounter!) The card, which had a cloud of colourful butterflies on the front, read as follows:
Dear WD [i.e. Water Dragon, which is myself in Chinese Astrology]
This azalea/rhododendron was planted in the garden of [my old house until sold in 2005] by your parents [must have been some time ago then]. I thought you might like to plant it in your garden [where I now live] in memory of your Mum & Dad. Now, while the ground is wet and it is not too hot, would be an ideal time to plant it. Of course it will need to be kept watered for the first year till it is established. Should you wish to keep it in a container, it would need to be replanted in a bigger one as the roots are now too restricted for further growth.
Yours sincerely, WM [i.e. Wood Monkey, which is M--- in Chinese Astrology]
The plant looked rather like a large bonsai tree, and it was clearly itching to spread its roots out in garden soil, and start growing again. I texted my thanks back, and said I'd get it planted the very next day.
The card actually revealed a few things. First, M--- could have merely dumped the plant, or given it away, but instead she ensured that I got it. That was a friendly gesture. Second, the card was a nice one, and even though the tone was neutral, it was pleasant as well, and the sentiment - in memory of my late parents, whose ashes are in the garden already, was a good one. Third, the card reminded me that M--- was a keen and knowledgeable gardener, and that she wanted the plant to do well. In fact, it may be that the welfare of the plant was uppermost in her mind, and that it wasn't a gift as such, but putting a living thing into my care, making me a custodian and a nurturer. But I don't have an issue with this. All plants should have respect and attention, and a bit of advice for rank amateurs like me did not come amiss.
Finally, if M--- can organise this, and write such a card, and feel that Mum and Dad's memory should be honoured, then I'd say that she has found a way to get back to normality, or at least a much less unhappy state. Sorting out her garden, the annual replanting, may have been the positive therapy she could not get from the medical profession. That won't mean a reconciliation between us, but if she really has found satisfaction (if nothing more) from maintaining a beautiful space full of well-tended and attractive growing things, then all power to her.
And I kept my promise to plant the azalea. Nor was it amateurishly done. In one of life's happy coincidences, my friend R---, who probably knews as much as M--- about keeping a garden looking good, got in touch and I invited her over. She's a worker, and she did most of it, so that this picture of me apparently lowering the plant into a hole of my making is, I'm afraid, a mere sham:
But we made a proper job of it. There was some bonemeal in the greenhouse, and R--- used that to line the hole. I held the plant upright as she put soil around the roots, and I trod the soil down around it down. R--- did everything else. She also cleared my path of weeds and moss, and had to be restrained from raking leaves and weeds from the entire bed. As I said, she's a worker; and she's fast.
I rewarded her with a good meal, wine included. Here I am, cooking:
We watched a surfing film, Riding Giants, while eating. Surfing is R---'s passion. The other is tennis.
Since planting, my little azalea has enjoyed shower after shower of heavy rain. I haven't needed to do anything with the water-can, but of course will if it's a sunny day. It's already perked up, clearly appreciating its new home.
Mum and Dad would be pleased. I hope they're looking.