What Flowers Taught me of Discipline
For many years, I’ve thought I’d enjoy keeping a few goats. We live in a place where we could keep goats. But I haven’t studied up on goat husbandry, haven’t thought about where to put a pen and a goat barn. The other day, I realized I’m not fit to keep goats. The flowers taught me.
A few days ago I planted pansies and stock in pots for my front deck. These flowers thrive in our mild winters and the pots were due for a freshening. I’d bought the starts in bloom, so I could judge their colors.
My mother taught me, when I was a child, kneeling beside her in our garden, that one always removes flowers and buds from new transplants. “Those flowers draw the plant’s energy,” she told me. “We want that energy focused on building good strong root systems, instead. They’ll bloom again, soon enough.” When I was older, I found this same wisdom echoed in the pages of the Sunset Western Garden Book, the oracle of horticulture in these parts. So almost always, I dutifully snip off flowers when I plant something new.
This day was chilly and gray; it was cold enough that puffs of my own breath steamed ahead me like little tugboats as I retrieved the soil from the garage. So I set up potting operations in my kitchen. When I’d settled the young plants into their fresh soil, I picked up my floral shears. But the stock’s perfume, the purple pansy faces peeping up at me from their margins, white like starched collars on choir robes–these small promises of beauty on a doleful autumn day–appealed their sentence. I set my snips aside and returned the pots to the deck.
The next day my co-grandma Judi came to visit. She told me about the days when she worked at the livestock auction. She raised a few goats too. And then some goat sickness came. She couldn’t remember its name, but she remembered her friend calling her, urging her to treat her small herd with antibiotics, quick-like.
All these years later, her voice shivered as she told me of the one goat she couldn’t save, the one she’d had to cull. “My friend brought his shotgun over,” she remembered. “I asked him to do it. ‘No, Judi,’ he told me, ‘If you’re going to raise these goats, it’s your responsibility.’ And so I did it.”
“Ohhhhh,” I breathed. I tried to imagine my grandchildren’s other grandma, leveling a shotgun, sighting down its barrel at her own goat. I wanted to ask her if the goat had a name, but the question seemed too cruel.
“It was hard,” she nodded, her eyes moistening, even now. “But I had to do it.”
As we spoke, those sweet stock blooms and innocent little pansy faces on my deck convicted me. I brought them home, assumed responsibility for them, and my self-indulgence kept me from sacrificing a few transient blooms. I compromised their futures, swapping it for a small reward today.
If I can’t manage to do right by a few starts of winter annuals, I’ve got no business owning goats.