I wrote this column 5 years ago; I offer it again, too preoccupied 6 hours a day with preparing the garden for winter to write properly.
It’s a nice Sunday in September, 2012. I’ve closed for the season. What a challenging summer! Never have I been so hot for so long. I’ve spent weeks as wet as my fountains, but I’ve finished this garden year with a sense of satisfaction; nothing important has died.
I’d thrown in the trowel a few times, though. The beautiful alley rose garden, for example, found itself on the short end of my shovel. Looking at it one June morning, I felt a deep weariness. The alley heat was awful. Oven-baked and sporting bloodied hands and arms every day, I’d struggled to tend the thorny queen of flowers.
I’d become a servant.
At that instant, I knew one of us had to go. The roses lost the toss. I’ve felt only relief, since.
The Lavender Garden that took its place is a scented wonder, and so much easier to manage. I’ve gone from rose maintenance chores lasting at least an hour per day, to just ten minutes a week.
Ding! The garden bell sounded…A rotund, vaguely squirrel-toothed, beautifully dressed older guy wandered in and looked around. He saw me lying under a hydrangea bush watering the roots, and padded over. “My. This is quite a project; the owner has you people out here all day, I imagine.” I looked up at him, noting his gesture toward my friend, a jeaned lady on her knees carefully collecting nigella seeds. (You people? Ah! He’d assumed we were employees!)
Before I could correct him, he blathered on. “How many workers run this garden?”
Exasperated, then unable to resist, I sighed. “Guess.”
He snapped back; “At least two.”
The gesture, again. (Interestingly, he didn’t bother to ask if he was right. He just ‘knew.’)
“But there’re too many cats in here. Why is this tolerated? They always make a mess in the flowerbeds, so I’d certainly poison them.”
What? Could the neighborhood cat be slinking through the foliage, concentrating on her afternoon rabbit hunt? No. His gaze was focused on my three rabbit-furred kitties (I love the irony), which stared out from the trompe l’oeil library window…He hadn’t looked closely enough to realize they were stuffed toys. I took a breath to answer, but he plowed on, loving the sound of his own voice.
“Some people”- he looked pointedly at the house- “shouldn’t put up with local riff-raff. ”
What? Ah…my friend’s husband was taking a nap on the garden’s patio. His clothing was a bit grubby and rumpled, as they’d just returned from a weeklong camping trip.
Hmmm. What we had here was ‘a failure to communicate.’ He was a bore. But, his declarative ‘observations’ were getting more out of line by the second. He was digging himself into a deep, embarrassing hole, metaphorically speaking.
He chugged on: “Tell me if I’m right. Your employer entertains a lot of overly endowed friends (he made a big-bust gesture and nodded toward the house), and rarely comes out here to get his hands dirty. And you people aren’t paid very well. Not these days; labor’s cheap. If you don’t pan out, there’s always another one in line.” He snorted. “Look here; you missed this weed.”
Yup. I had. I donned my meek-as-a-lamb face and pulled it out. “Thank you.” The urge to offer facts was stifled by fascination. How could anyone choose to live with him?
He coughed. “Well, Don’t expect me to keep doing your job for you. But if you’re ever down Georgia way, give me a call. I have a much bigger garden that I’ve trained my wife to manage. She might just hand over the reins to you if you handled it right. Look me up. Everybody knows me in__.”
Uh-huh. Right. I took his card and said, “Well, I have a job to do; there’s no rest for the weary.”
What I really wanted to do was to add him to the compost heap.
Shaking his head with condescension he strode down the stone path toward the Brick Walled Garden, opened the door and disappeared.
I ran into the house in time to watch him climb laboriously into his nice car and glide off.
The hose was still running gently, so I wandered back outside. A fat squirrel paused by the hydrangea, a huge green walnut in his mouth. We exchanged meaningful glances. I grinned. “You’re right, Earl. (All my squirrels are named Earl.) “The man was nutty. Good observation.” Snapping his plump tail, Earl bounded off to bury his nut in the warm earth.
I wondered how long it might take before the guy’s wife pondered her own compost pile with the same thought…