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Of Lilacs and Lemons

Picturing an Idaho garden

Story and Photos by Gerry Tsuruda

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but it doesn’t always tell everything. A picture of our garden may show irises, gladiolas and a barely visible lilac, but there is a missing backstory. Here it is.

My wife, Deanna, was born to garden and her skills carry us forward. She has a gardener’s temperament, coaxing plants, flowers and bushes to do their best. She fusses about the details and always carries on. She conjures a few prayers along the way because Idaho’s weather, length of day and season don’t always cooperate. Her prayers are not always answered.

Along with anticipated successes, gardening seems to be more about failures waiting to happen. You prepare, you plant and you wait. Then you revisit the drawing board to figure out what needs tweaking. Good gardeners are eternal optimists, a hearty lot, all of them, thinking that just one more hour of toil will make the garden better. That is gardening in Idaho and everywhere else on earth.

We are familiar with other places on earth. We are California transplants, that nefarious breed that has come to destroy Idaho one house and traffic jam at a time. But in our defense, I don’t think we are all that good at destruction. After five years in Eagle, we, too, honk and gesture at cars with California plates, just like the natives. But real evidence of our partnership with Idaho is in Deanna’s garden.

If you garden seriously, Idaho won’t let you remain a Californian for long. You can try to grow camellias or azaleas. Neither will cooperate. Good luck with planting a lemon tree. Deanna’s family grew them in California, but Idaho doesn’t care. But put a hydrangea on an east-facing mound and you will be generously rewarded. Idaho’s ground and climate know what they want you to do. You best learn that early on.

A recent California refugee won’t know about the short growing season, and the mad rush to buy plants after the last winter frost. They won’t know that the trees in their neighborhood are probably from Oregon, and that Lucky Peak controls whether you’ll have water for your lawn, and when.

If a picture could wax poetic about everything, I wouldn’t have to tell you about the thousands of huge river rocks that we have excavated from our supposedly pristine topsoil, and about the landscaping charlatans who were paid handsomely for their “expertise”. There would be no need to tell you that, aside from the volume of rocks we repurposed throughout the yard, the remaining ones would stretch all the way to Cleveland. And a picture could not tell you where Cleveland is on a map, never mind all those megapixels.

People from around the neighborhood occasionally come by to see Deanna’s handiwork. Even a confident gardener needs some reassurance that her fine art isn’t misguided in concept or execution, that the Aztec blue rocks hand-placed individually, actually look like a flowing river. I hate to brag, but with everything going on here, it’s not like I am entirely MIA. My hole-digging skills command attention; moving dirt around is a calling.

Some say we are out to change Idaho into California, but I like Idaho just fine. I’m a native Californian, but my mom was born in Idaho Falls. I guess I have Idaho running through my veins. I found out recently that I am actually related to the founder of Eagle. Nothing in particular I did. My cousin married into his family line, so it’s all on her.

Mom’s ashes now lay under that lilac bush in our backyard. She used to talk about how much she missed the lilacs and huckleberries of her youth. She never forgot the taste of a freshly picked Idaho spud; her family grew them. She left Idaho as a teenager, and now she has returned home.

As for the lilac, it is doing just fine. After all, a good Idaho gardener planted it, and someone dug a fine hole. And, now, Mom eagerly awaits next year’s bloom.

For more photography­­ and writing, please visit www.gerrytsuruda.com.