A flower blooms in the snow. The cat who has been avoiding you settles into your lap for a cuddle. Your long-lost dinosaur eraser appears in the bottom of a drawer.

These unexpected gifts sneak into your life, sometimes through active detective work and other times just falling into your lap.

When my parents moved into their current home, my mother began her gardening by searching the yard. Their house sat on the same site for decades. Previous owners marked their territory with special plantings and additions to the house. The last one bricked in the front porch and allowed the yard to grow into a small wild tangle.

My mother became a garden detective, uncovering a lilac on the side, a small group of daylilies by the road, an heirloom wild rose sited near her new vegetable garden. She pulled the weeds and shuffled the dirt and cleared a path for these treasures to grow. She called and related the discoveries to me as I sat in the snow, fifteen hundred miles away.

Now closer, we purchased a relatively new manufactured home built in 1998. My yard, although a generous “almost-an-acre,” contains no deep human history. Many of the homes surrounding us are the same age (none older). I suspect that someone came in and cleared exactly the same mix of trees that I now see from my studio window from the lots to create home sites.

My landscape had potential, but no mystery.

With that in mind, I didn’t spend time searching my lawn for treasures. The southern and eastern sides of the place have had a little landscaping, and one of the previous owners planted a holly hedge which protects the house from the road. A lawn surrounds our home.

As we moved into the house, we inspected the few bare branches of bushes and trees deliberately planted. We were bewildered by the placement of several pine trees in the front garden since they hid the rest of the plants. My wyfe declared we needed to chop down the pines. I waffled. The generous fluff of needles coating the branches entranced me.

We hired a landscaper to put in a french drain. He confirmed that the pine trees were weeds. White pines – grrrr! He hated them!

My waffling ceased. If I wanted one, I could simply ignore an area until one showed up. Perfect! Pull them all!

During the drain installation, he ripped them out and dragged them away to parts unknown.

Without Pines - Ahhhh

A vista of red dirt opened up. Suddenly, I could really see the rose that needed pruning, the pair of bare maples, a couple of random bushes and several leaf fans which I suspect to be iris. We’d already seen daffodils flourishing in February. What other plants could be hiding? I began to suspect a mystery brewing.

Spirea Close Up

In early March, a tall bush on the southwest corner of the house suddenly sprouted teeny-tiny white blossoms. While my mother-in-law wanted branches (she’s an inveterate flower arranger who named herself “the weed woman”), she couldn’t identify the plant. We interrogated an employee at our local garden center and she confessed, “Spirea.”

Columnar Boxwood

One previous owner fell in love with a narrow evergreen bush, settling it next to every entrance. Columnar boxwood I discovered with a quick internet search.

Holly Hedge

American Holly provides the wall between us and the street. One tree (an extra?) even sits at the beginning of our garden bed. I identified this specimen when glancing through a book on deer resistant plants.

As spring progressed through the first days of April, the flowering trees seduced me. Pears began the campaign back in early March, trees filling with white blossoms before the final snow. Forsythia lined the roads and flamed yellow up hillsides. By the end of March, cherries began to show themselves. Pink furled out through my morning walks, draping along bare branches.

Redbud Branch 4/14/17

A particular redbud finally drew me close last week. The story of its opening buds and lengths of blossoms entranced me. Even the showy double cherry blossom couldn’t deter me from my love of that one redbud branch.

Double Cherry Love

Although the showgirl does her best. Her blowsy pink hangs heavy on each branch. When the leaves come out on the redbud, my heart will shift.

Fickle little bitch that I am.

Their seduction ended with my obsession and, finally, after days of rain and clouds, we trekked over to the Biltmore Estate to walk the dogs and view the carefully cultivated landscape. Dreaming of the blooms promised in advertisements, I meandered through the woods, ogling the blooming trees.

As my mother-in-law, our guide, thought more of the dogs than our eyes, we didn’t stop for the tamed tulips and boxed-in azaleas. The French Broad river called. Alongside, the dogs walked us by the lagoon where canada geese floated and flapped and danced their spring dance. I appeased my eyes with dots of azaleas shining like spotlights from the few points they possessed.

Biltmore Estate Azalea

Each time we passed one, my heart burst at the beauty and I wondered how long until I could possess this astonishing plant. Would it grow in our soil? The dirt alongside the path didn’t seem that fertile.

Driving through the remainder of this planned and cultivated forest, Stephanie asked about the dogwoods flowering in white clouds. I could tell she needed at least one to exist on our land.

How long? I wondered again, thinking of the preparation for planting a shrub or a tree. After all, trees grew in our yard. How much would I need to amend the soil? What research would I need? A gardening book from our local library already sat on the pile of packing boxes I call a table settled by my den chair. Some answers could lie there, but my detective work was delayed again.

After our trip through the estate, Barb needed to drop by the garden center. Seeing the pots of azaleas, shrubs and trees whetted my appetite even more and I itched to begin my research. I would dig and improve the soil. The azalea and the dogwood would be mine! When we arrived home, my wyfe continued her remodeling efforts. I decided to play some ball with the dogs and headed outside.


Tossing the ball across the yard in a new direction, I noticed a cloud of flat white blossoms floating at the edge of our little forest. The dogwood. The same type from the Biltmore Estate! I called my wyfe, turning to run in. My eye slid across my path and arrested on a bright red star of a flower.

Our Azalea

Those two bushes in our front garden, the ones I hadn’t bothered to identify, that I let sit unloved in our front garden bed? Azaleas! One small flower sat stubbornly open at the bottom of the closest bush while red buds covered both, promising a blanket of red stars some day soon.

Neither plant is unusual in this area, and the fact that one of the two previous owners planted azaleas or that a native variety of dogwood volunteered at the edge of our little forest isn’t surprising. The magic lives in the coincidence. The wish materializing just after the thought appears.

The mysteries of the land began long ago, and an earnest detective will find them out. Two different varieties of hosta also showed their leaves in the vista of red dirt. Another rose sits near the dogwood, covered with vines which need to be untangled and pulled away. A raft of long leaves indicate daylilies at the edge of the ditch.

Everyday magic.

My favorite kind.