It was a gift, a full and beautiful French hydrangea, with it’s startling blue pom-poms of flowers perched above the simple white wrapping over the pot. I placed it on a counter, where it was out of the reach of the dogs, and for several weeks, I tended to it carefully with the enclosed fertilizer packet and a carefully metered watering schedule. In return, I was awarded with stunning and tenacious blooms for many days.
Then, so slowly that it was hard to notice at first, the plant began to languish. New buds were no longer forming and the ones that held tight were beginning to turn to parchment with age. The leaves, once a deep, leathery green, began to yellow, their pallor hinting at ill health.
At this point, I was a complete neophyte when it came to plant care. So, I turned to the wisdom held on the shelves of my public library combined with the practical advice delivered by a seasoned gardener who was volunteering at the library that day. I learned that the gifted shrub would only survive for a brief period in its small pot but that, luckily, it was suited to the climate found in Atlanta. I was instructed to purchase some planting soil, pick a suitable spot in my yard, and transfer the plant to its new home where, I was assured, it would thrive.
I followed the instructions as I understood them, holding visions of a huge hydrangea soon becoming the stunning focal point of my tired front yard.
Instead, I found myself pulling its skeletal remains from the earth a mere four weeks after planting. In my ignorance and haste, I had failed to adequately protect my charge against transplant shock, and it succumbed to the stress.
Years later, I again thought of that little plant. I, too, had gone from being in full-flower, content in my small world, to suddenly being ripped out and forced into a new – and harsher – environment. In the interim, I had become a competent gardener, successfully transplanting many plants. Now, it was necessary for me to apply that knowledge to myself so that I could survive the transplant shock after divorce.
With plants, it’s best to move them during their more dormant season and when they will not face the additional stress of extreme weather conditions. When it comes to divorce, we may not have the option to make the move at a time when the rest of life is relatively inert, so we have to be mindful of the additional pressures the timing may entail. As much as possible, try to push the pause button on the non-essential demands for the short term, so that you can direct your energies to getting settled in your new space.
Be Mindful About Placement
One of the many mistakes I made with my first hydrangea was siting it where it received afternoon sun, a death sentence for this shrub in the south. I almost made a similar mistake with myself, placing myself in an environment – alone in a rental – where I would receive too little social connection. Instead, I resided with a dear friend, where I had the connection and sanctuary I needed. Don’t worry about what others say you’re “supposed” to do or the mental image you’ve held for this life stage, place yourself where you will thrive.
Add a Little Bit of the Old
When I moved my little shrub that day, I carefully brushed away as much of the old soil as I could, thinking that it was stale and barren and needed to be replaced with completely new earth. Except that new soil was a huge blow to the struggling roots, with nothing familiar to comfort them, they simply froze from the shock. We’re not that different. When everything is new, we have nothing to rely on as we begin our exploration. Keep some things constant as you move from your old life to the new.
Provide Plenty of Water
It turns out that stressed plants need more water. They’ve not yet acclimated to their site, so they’re not yet completely efficient and the growth of new roots requires plenty of moisture. We also have a tendency to need more of the things that sustain us during a period of translate shock. We require more attention, more sleep and more support.
Don’t Try to Grow Too Fast
I fell for the advertising. While purchasing the planting soil for my little shrub, I picked up a gardening magazine from the checkout line. A two-page advertisement showed a glorious hedge of hydrangeas with the tagline, “Brought to you by Miracle Grow.” So, of course, I added the fertilizer to my cart and liberally applied to over the next two weeks. It was a huge mistake. I was forcing the plant to put out new stems and leaves while the rootball beneath the soil was still too small to support the new growth. We can easily fall into the same trap after divorce. The deep work, the root work, that we need to do to thrive isn’t fun. It isn’t sexy or beautiful. It’s easy to try to spread out too far, too fast and ignore what anchors us. And, just like the plant, it cannot be supported long term.
Loosen the Barriers
I probably killed that plant in fifteen different ways. When I finally removed its remains, I saw evidence of some root growth. To a point. I had made the planting hole too small and the roots had stopped growing once they reached the barrier of the rock-hard Georgia red clay. Sometimes, after divorce, we can find ourselves in a pocket of compassion and intervention and then once the empathy and concern of others begins to fade, we feel as though we’re up against a rock wall of indifference. Strive to integrate those barriers so that support is slowly decreased as you gain your strength.
So many of my mistakes with my little shrub were made out of impatience. I wanted it to be fully grown. Like yesterday. But, as with anything, there are no shortcuts. Instead, it’s a process of trial and error, adaptation and setbacks, and learning from each mistake. Only then, and with time, will the blooms return in full.