By Erin Wyble Newcomb
Illustrated by Annie Dwyer Internicola
Two years ago, my husband and I transplanted a forsythia bush. It kept drawing bees to our deck, and we thought it would work better as a privacy screen along the fence. The actual move ended up being fewer than ten feet, but the process took hours of digging and hacking at an extensive root network. By the time we got the forsythia replanted and watered, we weren’t terribly confident it would survive our amateur gardening.
Last spring, I sat on our deck and worried about the forsythia. I’d always loved its bright yellow blooms, some of the earliest color of the season (and my favorite color). It didn’t bloom, though. A few sparse green leaves filled in, but it was branchy and thin.
“Don’t worry,” assured my parents, far more seasoned gardeners. “They’re hardy plants. They don’t always bloom the first year after a transplant.”
This spring, I sat on our deck again and admired the full, healthy forsythia in all its golden splendor. As I studied the plant, I noticed the difference between the healthy branches and the unhealthy ones. There were branches laden with shoots and there were bare branches.
It needs to be pruned, I thought.
I have long heard of the metaphor of pruning in my faith tradition, but sitting there in my yard, examining a plant we’d labored over, the message finally found fertile ground.
Maybe those branches weren’t as securely connected to the roots, or maybe they weren’t getting enough access to light and water. Whatever the reason, the health of the plant depended on cutting off the dead parts.
It wasn’t a stretch for me in that precious moment of reflection—coffee cup in hand and kids playing together happily—to apply the concept of pruning to my own life. With an active family of four and so many opportunities in the Hudson Valley, it’s easy to overextend ourselves. I was feeling burned out, and my husband was feeling burned out. We needed more sunshine, more fresh water, and a chance to reconnect with our roots.
I thought of the relationships we’ve maintained out of a sense of duty or habit that were draining our resources without blooming. I thought of the activities we were participating in, many good in and of themselves, but taken together, exceeding what we could healthily steward. We were branching out in so many directions, but not all our branches were flourishing.
My family’s life needed pruning, too. The health and flourishing of the forsythia and my family both required the same thing. I don’t know if pruning causes the forsythia pain, or if it is a kind of relief that the flowering branches no longer need to bear the burden of the barren branches. For my family, it’s a bit of both. But don’t worry. We’re hardy, and we, too, are blossoming. █