I admire other people's gardens the way some people marvel at exotic cars.
But a lush floral landscape seems as out of reach for me as a Lamborghini.
I haven't been able to dedicate the level of continuous care it takes for a variety of plants to flourish. This is unfortunate because both my parents have green thumbs. Our home growing up had rows of rose bushes, thriving houseplants and various mature trees raised from seed.
The most I've been able to manage is a strip of hardy boxwood shrubs and a few hostas.
Then, one year, I had a stroke of inspiration: As a Mother's Day gift, I requested flowers planted in a garden rather than plucked in a vase. I picked out a colorful array of lily plants, and my husband and children did the manual labor.
The beds looked glorious in bloom. A riot of color greeted me each time I drove up the driveway. Alas, it turns out that maintenance and upkeep were not part of this gift. But the short-lived triumph of those lilies inspired me.
The next Mother's Day, I picked out several plants labeled "deer-resistant" at the nursery and paid someone to deal with the planting. I vowed to do better to protect them from the elements through the harsh summer.
They had names that sounded exotic to a novice gardener: caramel coral bells, silver carpet lamb's ear. For good measure, I added several large pots where I planned to transfer hanging baskets of flowers. Between the plants, soil, mulch, containers and labor, this was definitely the priciest Mother's Day present I have ever given myself.
Things started out promising, as my ambitious plans usually do. I even convinced my daughter to plant an herb garden in these newly adorned beds. I may as well have put up a buffet sign for all woodland creatures.
Why is gardening considered a relaxing hobby?
I never expected that it would bring such hostility into my heart. Any animals portrayed as a cute Disney characters -- deer, squirrels, rabbits, chipmunks -- became my mortal enemies.
Maybe the plants were deer-resistant, but some other small animals wreaked havoc soon enough. Wicked squirrels flung dirt out of the potted containers on the porch. Ravenous chipmunks devoured tender green leaves. Some kind of insects or slugs gnawed holes in anything they could find. The only herb that survived was the mint, which quickly took over everything else. And the relentless summer sun scorched the poor hostas planted in direct sunlight.
Rather than bringing me closer to nature, my new hobby was bringing me to war with it.
I worried about the garden when planning any vacation. Who was going to keep up with all the watering and weeding? I suggested to Frankie that he could make himself more useful in the yard, but he ignored me and peed on the lilies.
I tried to remember how my parents managed all this gardening work. They talked about their trees and plants tenderly, like children. Maybe, like the six humans they also raised, the effort it takes before things blooms is part of the joy?
Early last fall, I convinced my son to move the hostas from the direct sun to a shadier spot. Survival seemed unlikely. I mourned the demise of another plant I had failed.
A few weeks ago, I noticed tender green shoots poking up from the dirt.
All of last season's failures were coming back as a second chance.
"It's like a miracle," I said to a friend with a much nicer lawn and flower beds.
"That's kind of dramatic," she said.
It turns out, the drama is the gift.