Learning to Bloom Where We’ve Been Planted — or Hurled

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by Helen Baldwin |

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yo-yoing | SMA News Today | main graphic for column titled "We're Not in Kansas Anymore," by Helen Baldwin, depicting a blue wave offset by green nature scenes

Growing up, about the closest I got to yardwork was burying some poor mussels I’d brought back one summer from a family vacation on the Texas coast. Somehow I thought that hauling a handful or two of the already smelly critters in a shoebox of sand all the way back to Fort Worth in the scorching heat would be smart. It wasn’t.

My souvenirs bit the dust on the way back, mandating opened windows, and were promptly given rites in the nearest flower bed, almost before the car came to a complete halt in the driveway.

When my husband, Randy, and I bought our first house, my aversion to yardwork shifted to obsession. I loved working in our own little yard!

Our second home was far away in Columbia, South Carolina, its lush surroundings courtesy of miserable humidity compounding stifling heat. With my teaching and new mama duties, and Randy’s teaching, coaching, and new daddy duties, yardwork stopped at mowing. The giant pines, azaleas, dogwoods, and wisteria didn’t need any assistance from us.

Lenoir, North Carolina, was our next destination. The house was rambling, as was the lot, with a front yard full of trees providing much-welcomed shade, and a football field of grass in back. But our schedules once again limited available time to work in the yard.


For the past 25 years, home has been in a rural setting in the mountains of North Carolina. Out of the 15 acres that came with our old farmhouse, most are “mountain” acres, but there’s also a small creek and two ponds.

As the first brutal winter here mercifully came to an end, spring burst forth with brilliant yellow bushes scattered across the county. I love yellow in general (I’m an optimist!) and am particularly appreciative of the determination of yellow flowers. I learned these beauties were forsythia bushes.

Life became unexpectedly eventful almost immediately after our move to the mountains, however, and working in the yard again meant little more than mowing when we couldn’t see our feet. In the fall of 1996, Randy found himself unexpectedly hired to revamp a floundering high school football program, and I found myself unexpectedly pregnant. Randy was unexpectedly out of a job at the end of the school year, and we welcomed our surprise baby, Jeffrey, two weeks early.

We were hurled into the ultimate unexpected, life-altering assignment when Jeffrey was diagnosed at 8 weeks with spinal muscular atrophy.

Despite fervent prayers and our searching for every potential glimmer of hope to thwart SMA’s destructive force, Jeffrey donned his wings before he turned 6 months old.

Oh, what we learned and how we grew in that brief, intense assignment.


After Jeffrey’s death, our family regrouped and forged ahead. Besides parenting our other children, Matthew and Katie, Randy and I bought and operated a bustling bakery and sandwich shop until a desirable football coaching job (thankfully) materialized.

While Randy was consumed with long commutes and grueling coaching stints, I happily fired up my little mulching mower every year until even duct tape was insufficient at holding it together. I used a string trimmer on the weeds around the creek and the ponds, our rental cabin yard, up the trails to the mountaintop, and around the markers in the old cemetery.

I loved how the yard looked all spiffied up, but I wanted more.

I wanted forsythias.


In the spring of Jeffrey’s 16th birthday, I decided to celebrate by painstakingly clearing a large, neglected area for transformation into a beautiful pollinator garden.

The local group home’s annual plant sale, a perfect incentive, came at just the right time. As I loaded up with bee-friendly plants, I turned and saw them: potted forsythia sprigs. I snagged all five pots, crediting angel intervention for my good fortune!

Days after I finished laboriously planting over 60 plants in the new bee garden, a week of heavy rains drowned almost every plant.

But not the forsythias.


The five forsythias I planted have thrived way beyond my imagination. My pruning efforts are likely improper and carried out at the wrong time, but the shrubs don’t care. They aim to please, faithfully exuding hope and happiness!

Two of the thriving forsythia bushes. (Photo by Helen Baldwin)

However, I found myself begging folks to take cuttings after one of my prune-a-thons last summer. Forsythia limbs lay all over the ground. When a beekeeper friend dropped by, I stuffed as many as possible in two big buckets before he could object.


Last week, as I tried to clean up our yard, I tossed a handful of downed limbs into a large patch of leaves under some towering maple trees. In the “dumping” ground was a tiny, unexpected patch of blooming forsythia. Some of the cuttings I’d hurled into the heap of leaves and broken limbs last year decided to just make the best of it and bloom.

Temporary “dumping” spot for limbs. (Photo by Helen Baldwin)


Look closely for the tiny forsythia blooms! (Photo by Helen Baldwin)


Determination, perseverance, and success of the forsythia.  (Photo by Helen Baldwin)

Planted or hurled, wouldn’t it be nice if we’d just bloom like that?


Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today, or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.

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