Oliver: Where there’s a will, there’s a way, even for spring flowers

If benign neglect is a gardening style, then it aptly describes my relationship with plants.

Despite some grand dreams of creating a beautiful garden, my reality usually runs along the lines of put a plant in the ground, throw some water on it and walk away. If the plant lives, it was meant to be. If it does not, chalk it up to my ineptitude.

Sometimes, however, a plant will surprise and delight me, surviving although there’s no reason on earth that it should.

Perhaps I can be forgiven for this laissez-faire approach to gardening. After all, for the past eight years or so, I’ve been tending to a different sort of living thing.

First, I cared for my mother, who developed vascular dementia; then I cared for my mother and my husband, who was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease; and then after my mother died in 2018, I’ve been caring for just my husband.

Obviously, my human charges require more than just a little water and some weed pulling.

Years ago, I got it into my head that I would plant tulip and daffodil bulbs to brighten up our yard in the spring. Full of hope, I dutifully dug a lot of holes and put in the bulbs. As is usually the case with me, the ground that day was rock hard, and the going was difficult. Yet, I persisted.

Sadly, the ground squirrels found just about every one of those bulbs, even going so far as to leave one half-eaten bulb right outside a window so I could see their handiwork. My hope soon turned to despair.

Yet, one little tulip bulb right outside our front door must have been planted too deep for those brutish invaders to find.

Each spring since, that tulip bulb has sent up one lone leaf without fail. Just a leaf, but no flower. Yet, it was one of my happiest signs of spring.

For me, it is a lesson in defiance against the odds and resilience. Come what may, that little tulip leaf toughs it out and gives me hope.

The first spring of the pandemic, another unexpected thing happened. Right next to my little tulip leaf was another tulip, this one with actual blooms. I have no idea when or if I planted it. All I know is that suddenly there was an even greater sign of spring.

Oh, how I needed that! After all, the pandemic was causing so much fear and anxiety for all of us. Yet, amid the gloom and doom, there were my little tulips, defying the odds and bringing me joy.

Perhaps the new tulip had been dormant for a while. Maybe it too had been planted too deep and now the soil was just right for it to do something. I’ll never know.

As I walked around the house recently, I was shocked to discover another set of happy surprises. Last summer, my next-door neighbor was replacing her fence and needed to dig up some peonies. She offered some to me.

This was during a time of very little rain. I remember trying to dig deep enough holes to accommodate those peony plants’ roots despite the hard, dry ground. It was arduous work.

In my typical fashion, I gave the transplanted peonies a good watering and walked away. As summer turned to fall, most of them appeared to have died.

Yet, during that recent walk, I discovered that a number of those peonies were sending up shoots. The roots somehow had survived.

Even more surprising, though, is what is going on with my little tulip leaf. This year, it’s a full tulip plant, complete with a bud that one of these days will yield a flower.

As always, that little tulip is teaching me lessons about resilience and the power of keeping up the fight no matter what the circumstances.

Bloom where you’re planted. No matter how long it takes.

Joan Oliver is the former Northwest Herald assistant news editor. She has been associated with the Northwest Herald since 1990. She can be reached at

Joan Oliver

Joan Oliver

A 30-year newspaper veteran who has been a copy editor, front-page editor, presentation editor, assistant news editor and publication editor, as well as a columnist and host of an online newspaper newscast.