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Garden of Grace
Our neighbors recently traveled to China to pick up their new baby. An extensive and exhausting adoption process culminated in a family journey across the world to a faraway orphanage. There, they were united with the 2-year-old girl waiting to officially become their daughter. They’ve named her Grace, after a revered grandmother and the hymn sung in church the day they’d made their decision to move forward with adoption proceedings.
Born with Down Syndrome, Grace has spent her young life in the Jinan Children’s Welfare Center under the care of a devoted staff. She’s received regular medical attention for various physiological and developmental conditions associated with her trisomy, but she’s been ready to meet her true family. Ready to find her authentic place in the world. And find it she did, when our neighbors flew over — parents, grandparents, and two elated brothers (adorable sprites, barely school-age themselves).
While they were away, a group of families lining our same street, discussed ways to celebrate Grace’s arrival. Her delicate transition needs made the idea of a huge homecoming party impractical, and they’d already been thrown a baby shower. So, we decided to give them something that would grow along with their family. Something that would provide a tranquil, constant testament of our affectionate support. Something that could inspire them the way their beloved family continually inspires all of us.
A garden. A friendship garden of hope, love and grace … for Grace. A garden bursting with RED, the Chinese color of luck and happiness, and filled with meaningful plants.
As an amateur hobby gardener, I volunteered as project manager and went into the planning phase quite blindly, having only envisioned an explosion of red flowers. I started by mapping out the different areas of the yard, considering what they’d all see most often — the front curb and mailbox greeting them as they drive in and out, the walkways, the entry steps, an area directly in view from their front family room window. I puttered around various nurseries, reading tags, and started to piece together ideas. The garden plan became a little pattern for a patchwork quilt of flowers and plants, giving visual warmth as well as sentimental comfort. As I found plants I liked, I researched them selecting items representing Grace’s personal history and illustrating this first chapter of her new story.
Once all the plants had been selected and delivered, our neighborhood team met together on a clear (thankfully) Saturday morning with both adults and children eager to dig. The kids chattered gleefully as they worked, so excited to be a part of the project and to one day show baby Grace which flowers they’d planted for her. We showed them how to read the plant tags and place them in the right light, which width to dig their holes, how to loosen the roots balls and how deep to sink each one into the ground. We watched them pat the soil down, tucking in their charges with doting concern. As we finished, they beamed with pride, standing out in the street to admire our collective handiwork.
The curb area, in partial shade, already boasted bountiful oak-leaf hydrangea to which we added Chinese Snowball viburnum, Lenten Rose and soft silver lamb’s ear — fuzzy to the touch of curious fingers and known for it’s antibacterial properties. The mailbox now blossoms with bright red Double Knock-Out roses which should provide almost constant flashes of color until winter. Finally, we lined the entire approach with bright red impatiens — after all, they’ve been waiting for this precious gift for a long time.
We lined the walkways with cheer and color from red hot poker plant spiking upward like a Chinese firecracker or dragon’s tongue, red Gerbera daisies, the ‘Celebration’ variety of blanket flower and the familiar golden zest of rudbeckia. Gumpo white azaleas filled in a bare spot near the edge of the garage, and on the opposite end, at the base of their front steps a gardenia infuses the warm air with the glorious fragrance that’s made it a treasured flower of China for over a thousand years.
Throughout the yard, we found spots for special accents that spoke to me during my shopping and research. The Chinese glossy abelia brings a symbol of fortitude, it’s western cultivation almost prevented by 19th-century Malaysian pirate attack on the British sea vessel carrying them back. Nearby we tucked a ‘Little Princess’ spirea to delight the newest princess in our neighborhood, and honoring her darling big brothers, we planted two ‘Red Prince’ weigelas, also a 19th-century import brought from Shanghai to Britain by Robert Fortune.
To attract some butterflies for Grace’s enjoyment, we included Lantana camara, red bee balm, and red autumn sage. ‘Little Angel’ Shasta daisies, ‘Frosty Fire’ dianthus and assorted red daylilies soak up the rays in a sunny section while red annuals such as verbena, penta, salvia, vinca and petunia accessorize the open spaces between young plantings.
We created a small bed, centered prominently in front of their main window. As the family goes through the daily routine and the children play, they’ll all look out onto a white dwarf ornamental dogwood (Cornus florida) which will bloom each year at around the anniversary of Grace’s arrival. Red Hino-Crimson azaleas gather around the base of that dogwood, playing around in the dappled light and offering a special message — my research revealing that azaleas are a Chinese symbol of womanhood and referred to as “the flower of home” by some ancient poets. The flower of home… we’d planted over a dozen. Yes, sweet girl, you are home now and you will grow into womanhood in nurturing love, a blessing to us all.
Huānyíng huí jiā, Grace. Welcome home!