I stand eye to eye with a Cosmos. It's fuzzed yellow center winks at me like a cyclops. Watching the pink petals sashay in the breeze, I realized that I've only grown Cosmos this tall twice in my life. Both times I've forsworn the nursery's plastic pots with seedlings neatly tucked inside and tossed a bunch of seeds on to the ground, hoping for the best, the best came.
The spent blossom falls to the ground. I watch a bee skim over the Cosmos and bury itself in borage.
The day is perfect for gardening, really. The bluest sky. The quiet neighborhood. A tiny blue butterfly drops down onto the Queen Anne's lace for the briefest second, before waving behind my morning glories and disappearing over the top of the house.
The four foot stem is relieved of another tired bloom. I am deadheading. It is a practice I was taught years ago to keep flowers blooming and a garden looking nice. Despite the swelling pumpkin mounds and front lawn littered with makeshift cages to keep the deer from devouring the last of the runner beans, my front yard does look nice.
My basket is full and this particular stand of Cosmos looks quite tidy. No flagging flowers. No tightening seed pods ready to spill their seeds into the soil and stop my garden from blooming. I want to save those seeds alright but . . . not yet. It's only just July. Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, where Indian summers proliferate, I've got months of blooming ahead of me.
I gather my deadheaded daisies and head for the green waste bin on the other side of the yard. I dump the spent flowers in and close the lid. A movement from the butterfly garden stops me.
Perched atop a waving bunch of cosmos - the next on my hit list - is a small black and brown bird. The stem bends under its weight as it nuzzles its beak into the bare center of a former flower. Determinedly, it pries out one seed, then two and finally three before flitting away into our front yard tree.
My clippers hang at my side, feeling suddenly heavy. Once again, I'm faced with the realization that we need not work harder to open our hearts and yards to wildlife, to live in harmony with other species, to "be green." In fact, we can work less. We can let nature have her beautiful, tousled way with our gardens. We can put away the lawn mower and enjoy the flowers that spring up in its place, that entice bees to dine next to our picnic blanket. We can clear out ornamentals and let our children dig to their hearts content - connecting with nature at each ant uncovered, each earthworm excavated, and each "apple seed" planted.
It seems a difficult lesson to learn. That standards can be adjusted. That perfection is not necessary. That things don't have to be "pretty" by someone else's standards. I sit down under the maple tree, still and shaded, and watch wildlife use the garden we created for them. It wasn't that I hadn't learned the lesson, I realize. The bird hops back down to another flower, foraging for more seeds. I just needed a reminder.