There’s a process to coming home after a long journey. There’s a process to settling back into one’s routines and ruts and beloved pillows and remembering the systems that facilitate the regular tick of one’s daily life.

Gardeners – by which I mean, individuals who find themselves staring at the state of the tetrapanax along the front path at one o’clock in the morning after a nine-hour flight instead of making a beeline for afore mentioned pillow – share a similar base process with the rest of the normal world, but instinctively add another layer of homecoming to the chaos.    

fall garden

If you’ve been away over a significant shift in the seasons, and/or experiencing gardens bathed by global air currents you can only dream of, your first morning home may look something like this:

1:00 AM – Throw suitcases in hall, glance at stack of envelopes and flyers, two-week old dead bouquet, and layer of dog hair under hall table. Greet dogs.  Share moment of detached understanding with cat who emerges to see what the noise is about.

1:05 AM – Go back outside, ostensibly to get coat out of car, realistically to stare at shadows of freeze-wilted large-leafed plants.  Breathe in the scent of rotting foliage. Make mental note to remove it in the morning.

1:20 AM – Stare at own bed, duvet, and pillow like a lost lover. Sleep.

4:00 AM – Wake up in the knowledge that there is a zero percent chance of falling back asleep. Get out of bed, accidentally waking spouse. Have minor, whispered argument on the realities of jet lag.

4:05 AM – Grind coffee beans, holding grinder against body to alleviate the brief but necessary screech. Anticipate first sip of black nectar in favorite mug.

4:09 AM – Experience first sip of black nectar in favorite mug.

4:12 AM – Fill watering can and survey what lives, surprisingly enjoying more moments of joy than despair. 

4:15 AM – Find significant levels of mealy bug on Alocasia. Cease joyfulness. Berate oneself for bringing it in without treatment the half hour before leaving for the airport. Wash leaves and continue survey.

4:22 AM – Find new generation of scale on shefflera. Berate oneself for never moving it outside for the summer.  Consider long months ahead and fantasize over ending the relationship entirely.

4:25 AM – Allow eyes to rest on alarming stack of mail as brain foggily remembers pre-trip, last minute emergency room visit and the undoubted financial reckoning hidden beneath the Costco catalog. Experience a renewed desire to spend time washing schefflera leaves. Do so, muttering under breath.


5:05 AM – Avoid opening mail by deep-cleaning kitchen stovetop.  Remember that dishwasher is broken and chimney needed sweeping in June.  Continue muttering. Glance at outside thermometer. Shiver. Reflect on the realities of a Mid-atlantic winter. 25F is only the beginning.

6:08 AM – Wonder when the hell the sun will rise so you can see something outside without a flashlight. Half-heartedly sift through mail, pulling out election flyers and throwing them in the fireplace.  Feel accomplished. Think of unzipping backpack and logging into computer. Ponder inbox. Feel pit in base of stomach.  Cease pondering.

6:12 AM – Look outside for glimmer of sunrise. Consult Weather app. Be disappointed. Screw around on Instagram and allow the sunrise of a warm, perfectly-cared-for garden in New Zealand to both annoy and delight.  Scroll past 28 year-old telling followers that the secret to aging is having a 28 year-old body. Mark post as inappropriate. Get the hell off Instagram.

6:45 AM – Watch sky begin to lighten.   Stand in dining room window staring at majestic white sycamores reemerging from the woodland after a long green summer.   Regard the shadowy, narrow skeletons of hundreds of tulip poplars standing like soldiers; and reflect on how a common tree can be so precious in a different land.  Make resolution to remember such things when removing six million pointy seeds out of the gutters tomorrow.

7:00 AM – Sunrise!  Greet tiny shafts of sun breaking through tulip poplar soldiers like a giddy idiot, watching the landscape fully reveal itself in tawny shades of orange, brown, and grey. Settle into favorite chair for show. Say a prayer of gratitude for favorite chair. And tulip poplars.

7:32 AM – Dress quietly and usher dogs outside.  Stand in doorway and conduct mini pep-talk with oneself over best way to approach the state of the garden. Fluctuate between inadequacy and idealism and settle on a curious heart. Grab phone and tool belt. Plunge in.

2:00 PM – Return to house for lunch and cup of tea. Look at stack of mail. Think of inbox.  Glance at pet hair on floor.  Take sandwich and tea back out to garden to avoid such trivialities. Tomorrow instead. Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.

autumn stephanandra