I remember the day I first learned about the birds and the bees, which — surprise — really had nothing to do with birds and bees.
I was watching an afternoon rerun of “Marcus Welby, M.D.” with my mother, and the episode focused on a patient with an STD, only it was called VD at the time. My father walked in at that moment and asked if I knew what that meant.
“Um, yeah?” I said, unsure if the question mark at the end of my response gave me an air of authority or uncertainty.
And then came my father’s response, “Let’s go for a drive.” Uncertainty it was.
So into the car we went — one of those awkward, teachable-moment discussions between a parent and a child. If only birds and bees had been part of the conversation — or, for that matter, hydrangeas. That would have been a nice way to ease into the topic. If hydrangeas had been the opening, maybe I wouldn’t have been so stunned when I looked under some of the lacecap hydrangeas in my garden.
Hydrangea babies, I get. In fact, I’ve actually assisted in a few births — a hydrangea midwife, if you will. It involved a sharp pair of clippers, some water, rooting hormone, and sandy soil.
But this is the first time I’ve witnessed a live hydrangea birth — and boy, was I surprised. My inner thought was more of a shout, “So that’s where baby hydrangeas come from!”
I was under the shrubbery, on my hands and knees with branches scratching against my head. As I brushed away brown winter leaves from the base of a hydrangea, I noticed that a mature branch had touched the ground. Roots had emerged and grabbed hold, and now a green stem and leaves rose from the contact point.
I’m not sure why I was surprised — the process makes perfect sense. As I said, I already had success with rooting hormone on tender green hydrangea stems. Why, then, was it surprising that a plant had done it without my help?
The question twisted and turned itself inside my head as I went about the task of cutting the woody umbilical cord and gently removing the infant plant from its birthplace. It was time for it to put on its big girl panties and move to a spot of her very own.
And that’s when the answer to my question began to take shape.
I am amazed — if that’s a strong enough word — at what plants do when no one is looking. From above, the baby plant could not — was not — visible. It simply looked like a branch that reached over the bed’s edging.
But at ground level, in the shadow of the mother plant, the baby was content and growing and staring back at me.
At this point, my partner Joe would probably warn all of you: Nerd Alert! As I worked on the plant and got into my own head, I thought about time — or rather, how two different time speeds can exist in the same timespan. As I buzzed through my life, other life was growing.
Think about it. During a specific stretch of time, say a year, I went about my business: waking up, going to work, food shopping, going to work, keeping doctor appointments, going to work, gardening, going to work, writing, going to work — a hectic, whirlwind life in which time seems to fly.
And there, beneath a shrub that I pass each day, a single branch had arched downward until it touched the ground and grew — a process so slow and miraculous that it forces one to breathe and contemplate.
I then embarked on a mission, crawling under the branches of other hydrangeas, reaching my hands into their hearts to pull out leaves that were trapped between the stems, searching for more babies.
There they were. In total, one lacecap had sprouted two young ones, and a second lacecap produced three — an unexpected gift from nature that not only produced joy and excitement in the garden, but will also fill an open area along the side of the house. I’m also a bit consumed with the idea of bending branches to the ground, securing them, and letting nature take its course. I could totally run a hydrangea mill of sorts.
So, Happy Mother’s Day to all the Moms and Mother-figures out there — and when you sit down to have “The Talk” with your kids, remember to begin with hydrangeas. It will make things easier.