My garden is a modest patch of flowers in a Portland neighborhood lawn. To the dog walkers, runners and parents with strollers who pass our house, it may not look like much. There’s no grand design or prize-winning plants; it’s just a big rectangle with a hodgepodge of bulbs, annuals and perennials that suit my fancy.

Shasta daisies like these, which bloom in July, remind Helen Scalia of her brother’s birthday and his smile. danhusseyphoto/

But, like most gardens, it’s full of stories. In my case, stories of the beloved dead. When a loved one slips away, I plant a new seedling. For me, this ritual isn’t an act of memorializing as much as creating a vessel for their presence, to spend time with, care for and enjoy.

I reconnect with my father each spring as the baptisia sprout, and throughout the season they surprise me with their leafy expanse and delicate purple spikes. A sea of Shasta daisies that blooms happily every July for my brother’s birthday reminds me of his radiant smile. Much to my delight, my mother-in-law’s miniature rosebush, crowded and often neglected, delivers sweet yellow blooms well into fall. Sometimes, when a departed loved one makes an unexpected yet persistent entrance into my thoughts, they’ll get an annual, like the marigolds for my grandfather.

Tending these flowers keeps each person alive and close to me as I whisper encouragement, protect them from encroaching weeds and generally fuss around their plot of dirt. All the while, we share sunshine, clouds and rain. These small but consistent acts are a balm to my deep sorrow.

I don’t think I’m alone in this planting habit. On my own walks, I notice other gardens and wonder, “What’s your story?” Often, I stop to admire a thriving plant and ask, “Who might you be?”

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