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Ronda Rich: Even plants seem to know to grieve
ronda rich
Ronda Ronda Rich is the author of "Theres A Better Day A-Comin." - photo by File photo

Ronda Rich

Syndicated Columnist

It was about 16 years ago that a famous man dug up part of a famous plant in his garden of world renown and gave it to me.

“Don’t put it where it’ll get the hot afternoon sun, plant it in the gentle sun,” he explained. “If the leaves wilt, it’s from lack of hydration. Just water it and the leaves will perk right up.”

The plant he gave me was about four feet tall with an abundance of roots. It took quickly to the red clay earth, facing the north where large oaks and maples shield the sun. It has always grown hardy and mightily with so many blossoms that, from time to time, a heavy rain would lay the limbs onto the ground.

Until this past summer. It sets next to the back porch steps. Every morning when I’d let the dogs out, I studied the bush in its listless stage. One morning, I said quietly, “You’re grieving, aren’t you? Just like all of us.”

In the 1960s when Vince Dooley became the University of Georgia head football coach, he began to create a flower garden that would bring experts from around the world to view and write about it. A Camellia was named for him. To acclaimed gardeners, he is well known for the incredibly hardy hybrid of a hydrangea named, of course, The Dooley Hydrangea.

To these lovers of the earth and its buds, his development of the Dooley Hydrangea, meant much more than the national championship he brought to Georgia or the 40 years that he spent there as head coach. This hydrangea’s outstanding quality is its ability to withstand a late spring and still blossom.

A deep freeze on Easter was unexpected and tough. As we stood on the hill beside the church as the sun rose and the preacher read the scripture of Christ and Him crucified, we shivered miserably in heavy coats and hats. The next day I saw that the Dooley Hydrangea, that plant he dug up for me from the original plant, had suffered heavy damage, perhaps even killed.

I shrugged it off. I had, once, seen a much more severe freeze on the last day of April and, yet, it had sprung back to life. The days and weeks passed. The hydrangea seemed as if it couldn’t muster the strength to overcome this latest trial.

On the steps beside it, I sat and studied it carefully. “I understand, my little buddy. We all miss him. It’s only right that you should grieve his death, too.”

Coach Dooley had died six months earlier and this plant he birthed seemed to know it. Finally, near mid-June, the greenery began to spring forward. After I trimmed 200 pieces of dead limbs, it grew back enormously with huge green leaves.

Still, for the first time ever, it did not bloom. It merely promised me that it would be back when its grieving had ceased.

Along the edge of the back porch are three plants gifted to me by special friends: Dooley, NASCAR’s Darrell and Stevie Waltrip and Mr. Gene Bobo, the co-inventor of pantyhose. Mr. Bobo once sent me an azalea plant for no special occasion. I planted it at the edge of the porch. Every spring, it brings forth the most beautiful deep pink buds.

For about six weeks, it is beautiful then gently, one by one, it drops its flowers and only the green leaves remain. I have had this plant for 13 or 14 years and in that time, it has never flowered but once in a season.

But this time? When mid-September came, it began to bud again. By the first of October, the bush was half full with blooms.

I looked at the two plants, sitting 15 feet apart, and I thought of what Mama and Daddy always said in a similar situation.

The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh.

This time, He taketh then giveth.

Ronda Rich is the bestselling author of “St. Simons Island: A Stella Bankwell Mystery.” Visit www. to sign up for her free weekly newsletter.

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