Bleeding Hearts: Of Spring and Simple Things


Bleeding Heart: Lamprocapnos spectablis (formerly known as Dicentra spectablis) My garden, 2017

It is Spring! Finally. The dreamwork of Winter is over and we move into the active work of sowing the seeds that we have pondered and planned the last four months. The gardens in our minds, between the pages of a book, the seed catalogues that we have flipped through and marked up–it is time to manifest them into reality. It is the season to get moving once again, pull ourselves away from the warm hearth and venture out into the original source of warmth, light, and life–the sun. Spring is the time of birth and rebirth: we watch what we thought might not have survived the cold winter grow back into lush life. Baby animals appear in the fields, trees, and waters. Spring is the time of growth, renewal, and miracles–in our gardens, as well as in our lives.

This time of year, I especially remember my grandmother, Maw Beale. I’ve written stories about her before. She died when I was ten, but in those ten early years she made a big impact on my life. My earliest gardening memories are of Maw singing as she hoed straight rows of soil and planted seeds, or harvested crops. She checked the soil acidity by tasting it–yes, she was old school. She also grew flowers, lots of different kinds, but the ones I remember most clearly are the bleeding hearts. I was probably about five when I was playing over on her second lot, where her mother’s house stood. This house served as my great-grandmother’s museum of sorts, with china and glassware, trinkets, and tchotchkes, little fancy figurines lined up here and there serving no purpose save remembering a life lived long before. My aging great-grandmother had moved into Maw’s much-less-formal house directly across the driveway.  On a warm spring day, I remember looking up into a tree and seeing two pots of heart-shaped flowers hanging from a limb. I was mesmerized. What could these be? I picked several blooms off and showed them to Maw. She told me they were bleeding hearts. “Are they real?” I asked. Maw laughed her big Maw laugh and said, “They’re real plants, but not real bleeding hearts. And if you don’t pick ’em all, they’ll keep blooming for a while and you can have the ones that fall off on the grass.” Maw was like that: she didn’t yell or fuss, she taught me to leave them so I could watch them grow. I wish I had flowers from her garden in my own garden today. I don’t. What I do have is a few sweet memories of a simple, down to earth woman who worked hard in her garden and loved being outside. I have been blessed with a few of her genes to love and care for the natural world. Keep your money, jewels, and stock; the love of true stewardship, the value of caring for a little plot of land–that’s the best inheritance I could have ever hoped for. 

This poem by Mary Oliver reminds me of my Maw Beale, a simple woman made happy by simple things. May I, too, be that woman.

The Bleeding-heart

I know a bleeding-heart plant that has thrived
for sixty years if not more, and has never
missed a spring without rising and spreading
itself into a glossy bush, with many small red
hearts dangling. Don’t you think that deserves
a little thought? The woman who planted it
has been gone for a long time, and everyone
who saw it in that time has also died or moved
away and so, like so many stories, this one can’t
get finished properly. Most things that are
important, have you noticed, lack a certain
neatness. More delicious, anyway, is to
remember my grandmother’s pleasure when
the dissolve of winter was over and the green
knobs appeared and began to rise, and to cre-
ate their many hearts. One would say she was
a simple woman, made happy by simple
things. I think this was true. And more than
once, in my long life, I have wished to be her.

From Mary Oliver, New and Selected Poems Vol. Two

Maw Beale.


5 thoughts on “Bleeding Hearts: Of Spring and Simple Things

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