Musings on “Home”

In 1750, the English writer Samuel Johnson wrote, “To be happy at home is the ultimate result of all ambition, the end to which all enterprise and labor tends.”

2006-2010: ViaVerde, the garden I planted in Southern California

I’ve lived in many homes as a grown-up, particularly six special places into which I’ve invested creative efforts to make my own. My musings on “home” and what it means to be “far from home” means exploring whether it is possible to possess more than one home.

I don’t mean a vacation home at a lake or the mountain cabin of our dreams. What this question really gets to is whether my heart can be at peace when it lives in two places – even though I’m only physically in one of them.

To me, home actually means garden, and the deep connections I have made with the many gardens I’ve planted and nurtured – and subsequently left behind. My family moved every three or four years when I was growing up, so we were never very sentimental about those houses or yards (certainly not gardens, because my parents were anything but gardeners).

By the time I made a home of my own and started a family, I was determined to not be like my parents. I didn’t want to relocate constantly and I wanted to give my children roots in one place. That is, until a quirk of fate changed everything and we relocated from Seattle to Los Angeles in 2006 – a place that was decidedly “not home.”

I remember my first return trip the following spring when I flew back to Seattle for the NW Flower & Garden Show – I spent five days pretty much on the edge of tears. Everything in Seattle, especially the sensory explosion of spring plants, their scents, their ephemeral woodland vibe; it was precious to me and triggered memories of the garden I had left behind. I stood at the podium to give my lecture and was so overwhelmed at the faces of friends in the audience – people who I considered my community – that my eyes welled up and I had to pull myself together to give that talk. It was a tough trip, because I’d only been away for six months and felt as if I had been exiled to an alien land.

But the passing of time had a way of altering my perspective, and one year later when I returned to Seattle for the same flower show, my idea of “home” had started to change. Twelve months had passed, 12 months that immersed me into the full, four-season cycle of gardening in a new environment. During a completely self-indulgent week in Seattle, when I left my family behind in order to have long, uninterrupted adult conversation, to hug and laugh with friends, to inhale the scent of wet, mossy earth and feast my eyes on perennials that I could no longer grow, I realized that I was kind of a visitor.

Life continues, and it changes. That’s okay. I wasn’t lost. I wanted the “not home” to become “home,” so I looked for the surprises that living in Los Angeles offered. Thanks to kindred spirits who adopted me and took me on plant-and-garden lovers’ field trips, and shared their passions with me, my outsider feelings began to change.

One new friend laughed at me, saying ‘You’re like a tourist – you get excited about everything new!’ I guess my insatiable curiosity, about seeing with new eyes — seeing that vastly different landscape, the alien, thorny cacti in a climate where my former Seattle houseplants now loomed as large as landscape shrubs – it all helped to deepen my affection for my new surroundings.

A few new friends took on the task of organizing outings that introduced me to the beauty of Los Angeles, from its architectural history to the vastly different microclimates ranging from the mountains to beaches, to the desert – the sleek and the wild.

After another return visit to the Pacific Northwest, I wrote an email to a friend: “Being in Seattle last week was the first time I realized that it is no longer my home, but a beloved place that I cherish in my heart. Home is now Southern California, and after a week playing in Seattle, I was ready to get back to Los Angeles.”

What made it feel like home, eventually? The ocean’s healing properties, sand between my toes, salt water in the air, the weight of pockets filled with bits and pieces of seashells, smooth glass and weathered pottery collected from the beach … and desert flowers that bloomed in the color of sunsets.

What a gift it was to be given a new home, even one that I didn’t realize I wanted.

There is an ironic postscript to this story.

Four years after my spouse’s job change dragged us all to Los Angeles, the California adventure came to an end – and another job returned us to Seattle.

I procrastinated. I was the last one to make the move, weeks after my husband and two teenage sons returned to Seattle. With the Volvo station wagon crammed to the brim with my garden art and terra cotta pottery, the many plants I couldn’t bear to leave behind, and our Lab Zanny, I left Ventura County for the Pacific Northwest. I hit the road with four books on tape and gas in my tank. The succulent menagerie made the trip unbruised, and as did my emotions.

Like the earlier relocation from the PNW to Southern California, the return move happened rather unexpectedly, and I found myself experiencing similar feelings that I felt four years earlier.

And now I have two homes in my heart, two places I have planted and tended. I have said good-bye to many gardens, but leaving behind my Seattle garden in 2006 and my Southern California garden in 2010 — those were the hardest. I brought pieces of those gardens with me on both moves, feeling like the pioneers who left the East Coast or Midwest and traveled to places across the West as homesteaders. I’ve read stories about the flower and herb seeds tucked into pockets or plant cuttings carried in a basket, perhaps on the covered wagon, by women who, like me, followed a family’s dream for a better livelihood by moving far from home.

Is it the appearance of green foliage and conifer needles everywhere I look or the moisture in the morning air, the mesmerizing pattern of clouds against the blue-gray sky, the fresh sensation of breathing, smelling, absorbing the Northwest weather through our pores that make me feel at home now? The answers aren’t easy to articulate. It’s a feeling, a sense of comfort, of familiarity.

I have a newish garden, which I began to plant in 2017 in South King County, and you know, it contains pieces and memories of my past cherished gardens that make it feel like home. The garden bench, the artful trellises, the agave plant that made the drive in my Volvo back in 2010 — it still lives on the front porch, tolerant of the shivery winters, but protected from rain.

Every time I see that wondrous plant I am reminded that, yes, it is possible to love two places, even though I am currently living in one of them.

Debra Prinzing

Debra Prinzing is a Seattle-based writer, speaker and leading advocate for American-grown flowers. Through her many Slow Flowers-branded projects, she has convened a national conversation that encourages consumers and professionals alike to make conscious choices about their floral purchases. Debra is the producer of, the weekly "Slow Flowers Podcast" and the American Flowers Week (June 28-July 4) campaign. Debra is author of 11 books, including Slow Flowers (2013), The 50 Mile Bouquet (2012) and Slow Flowers Journal (2020). She is the co-founder of BLOOM Imprint, the boutique publishing arm of Slow Flowers.

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