Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Mothers & Persistence

Many years ago, my mother travelled with a group from her church to England. On this trip, she visited the birthplace of John Wesley, the founder of the Wesleyan denomination of the Protestant Methodist Church. When she returned, she gave me a few packets of seeds from the shop associated with the site.
Although I was still a student, I had a small garden in my rented suburban house, in which I grew a few flowers, the proverbial and ubiquitous tomatoes as well as a six-foot by ten-foot lawn. I made every effort to plant and grow the seeds but without success. Instead, in an attempt at atonement, I wrote a short story, “John Wesley’s Hollyhocks,” and included it in my Master of Arts Degree thesis in Creative Writing. The opening paragraph begins:
Mrs. Fortinbrough approached the ground, all her weight braced heavily against the brick border of the flowerbed and, stroking the fine, new shoots, raised her face to the window. The girl let the curtain fall back over the window and disappeared. Her daughter was no more interested in this season’s hollyhocks than she was interested in going to church….
This is a story about the relationship between an adolescent daughter and her mother. As we can all imagine and is indicated by the closure of the curtain, the relationship is strained at this stage. Happily, my actual relationship with my mother, though frequently contentious—as is any interpersonal interaction—was healthy and positive. Her passing has not lessened my love for and dependence on her wisdom.
This year, for the first time in nearly thirty years, I have a garden which has eventually proved to be responsive to hollyhock propagation. When I first planted the seeds, directly into the soil in the spring of 2018 with absolutely no response, the letdown was palpable. The soil in these high desert plains is river-bottom clayas hard as rock when it’s dry. This spring, I started hollyhocks and delphinium among other varieties in the proper potting soil in seedling pots.
I then prepared an area of the garden with compost and other organic material. When I transplanted the seedlings, I had to protect the young plants from the wild rabbits with plastic collars. Once the hollyhocks began to grow above where the bunnies could reach the leaves, the plants flourished.
In many ways, I equate gardening with writing. Persistence is the key to success. As Steven Pressfield remarks in his writers’ guide, The War of Art, procrastination is a form of resistance. Persistence and perseverance get results, just as Mrs. Fortinbrough will get results with her daughter:
…Just as the hollyhocks had needed her care and discipline, so did the daughter. It was not too late for her roots to be tapped and the plant to grow straight again….


  1. Leigh, your post is beautiful. Comparing flower growing to writing is great and so true. Thankfully my writing is not dependent on my green thumb. I love beautiful flowers, but I'm rarely successful with their growth. Only the toughest plants grow in my pots in spite of me!
    Your mother seemed like a doll. So glad you have something beautiful to remember her by.

    1. Mom was full of wisdom, often quoting from Shakespeare. She was also instrumental in how I raised my children. My love of gardening was a gradual development but steadfast. I am a dilettante but seem to have good results when I concentrate. Gardening helps me think about my works in progress - persistence and diligence pay off for both.

    2. Thank you for your kind remarks, Fran.

  2. Terrific post. I love Hollyhocks but never had any success growing them. Maybe I haven't put enough care into cultivating them, though. A beautiful memory and story, and very applicable to authors!

  3. Thank you, Karen. Yes, hollyhocks...I have tried for almost 30 years until this last planting season, when I was finally able to grow three plants from two packets of I don't know how many seeds! Just like not every idea gets to be a book. I now have seeds from my own home-grown hollyhocks to plant. We'll see how the bunnies react.

  4. Hi Leigh--
    Your hollyhocks are gorgeous. It's wonderful you were persistent and that your efforts gave you beautiful blooms. And you out-smarted the bunnies! Very impressive :-)

  5. I agree, Leigh. Persistence is the key to success in almost every endeavor.

  6. interesting analogy between writing and gardening. Optimism I think is also important. If I didn't believe that someone will read my book for my husband, that gardener in our house, didn't trust that you could defeat the groundhogs and rabbits, we'd both give up--and we haven't!