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Saturday, April 16, 2011

Mini but Mighty (April 16, 2011)

Wonder Woman is alive and well. I would know. She lives around the corner from me.

Last month I finally met her. For years I’d wondered who owned the home where plumeria plants peek over the side gate. A gardening junkie like me, I figured, but I’d never seen her. Was she a nocturnal gardener, sprinkling fairy dust and fertilizer by the light of the moon? The mystery gripped me.

At last I glimpsed her as she pulled weeds from her front lawn one morning. I crossed the street, making a beeline for her, and introduced myself. She straightened up to maybe five feet tall (and that’s only because she was wearing red high heels), smiled, and chirped, “Hi, I’m Wanda, I love to garden and I’m ninety years old!”

We chatted for half an hour and she had the pep of someone half her age. I asked if I was tiring her out but she said her doctor wants her to get out and do things each day, that it’s how she stays young! She has lived in her house since 1956, and offered to show me her back yard, which is on a canyon that used to have cows in it before more houses were built. I followed her to the back. Who am I to refuse a 90-years-young gardening enthusiast in high heels?

Her husband built her a greenhouse fifty years ago, but a neighbor reported it to the city as being too big a structure. Their solution? Literally to cut it in half to comply with the city’s rules. The result is two smaller greenhouses in back. It’s a little funky, but as you know, I like funky better than formal. I like people, places and things that have a fun back story, so these two halves delighted me! The houses are as solid as ever, with slatted benches inside for drainage and a variety of plants, which she talks to and nurtures.

Wanda told me about owning a wedding floral service years ago, and she still knows the names of nearly all of her plants. I asked about a potted plant that looked like a kalanchoe variety, but with leaves smaller than I’ve seen before. It has tiny red flowers as its blooms, and I thought it was cute. She gave it to me but turned down my offer to bring something by to return the favor, saying she has quite a few plants already! This kalanchoe plant is like its original owner: both are small but resilient. I put Wanda’s plant with the other potted succulents I have in my yard and when I water it, I think of her. This is one of the many great things about gardening and gardeners—it’s easy to share plants because they keep growing, and the sharing brings people together.

Gardening is great for so many reasons. Unlike many of life’s projects, with gardening you quickly see the results of effort given, whether it’s through weeding, or in the growth of new leaves. Spending time outdoors with my plants always makes me feel better. I see new leaves and flowers each day. I feel good nurturing my plants, so they grow, so I nurture more, and they grow more. A happy cycle. Wanda’s gardening most likely contributes to her physical health but also to her emotional state. Researchers have found that people who interact with plants handle everyday stress and mental fatigue better than those who do not. For me, gardening really does provide a natural high. My drug of choice? Soil!

What’s Wanda’s secret to her longevity? Is it wearing red heels at age ninety, a refusal to be practical when colorful heels provide such gusto? Is it her optimism and enthusiasm? Her sense of humor? Her passion for plants? It’s everything. Wanda is an inspiration. This lady doesn’t need magic cuff bracelets to convince me. She really is Wonder Woman.

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