One lovely early morning in mid-summer some years ago four middle-aged ladies showed up, smartly clad in attractive Bermuda shorts, crisp short-sleeved shirts and spotless deck tennis shoes. They wore expensive, very attractive haircuts and large wedding rings, which glittered as their leader fumbled angrily with the padlocked chain securing the first large, Victorian iron gate. She loudly demanded admittance, though my sign inviting visitors to enter wasn’t out that early.
Before I could respond, another one stated they had come too far to be ‘put off’ by a menial gardener. (Clad in baggy coveralls, my twiggy, rumpled thatch of hair and cheeky black smudges serving as common-as-dirt gardener’s rouge, I WAS a distinctly unimpressive sight.) I should be ashamed of myself, they chorused- voices high with indignation- for keeping it locked, knowing visitors were standing there. (It hadn’t occurred to them to introduce themselves, or to ask who I was.). Right then it was a few minutes before 8:00 a.m. I had hoses lying about, and hadn’t finished my morning weeding. Dirt, shriveled leaves and petals lay on the path, waiting to be swept up. Much of this disarray was evident to these indignant women, but still, they felt they had every right to come in when they pleased.
Sunnybank is a private garden, I reminded them gently, and they would be most welcome when I could clear the paths of hoses, tools, weeds, and me, and that would happen about 9 o’clock, as always. Incredulous, they stomped off, buzzing with frustration, muttering that they should ring the front doorbell to complain to the owner about ‘that idiot.’ Their backs were rigid and their voices cut into the clear morning air, like flies at a picnic. I stood there bemused for a little space, then carried on with my work. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see if they returned!
In fact, they did, in mid-morning, and remained a good while, gesticulating with manicured fingers that stabbed the air. Their tanned heads nodded vigorously as they chatted about form and texture. I wore clean, nicely fitted clothes and a sunhat and chose to inconspicuously read my book on a bench, and went inside when they came too near, not wishing to cause embarrassment. Not for the first time, though, I wished I could hear them more clearly. Were they gardeners? Could they identify the various plants?
I’d never know.
Not just ladies can be challenging. One middle-aged, tidy gentleman with a large, wonderfully expressive mustache insisted I had “misrepresented” a plant, and bluntly told me I didn’t have a clue what it was. HE knew, though, and in a year or two, when it had established itself, I would finally realize his identification was the correct one. Nothing I could say would convince him I knew what I had planted. With this sort of person I decided that it would cost me nothing to stop arguing and agree that he might be right. It made him happy. He harrumphed triumphantly, and went on his way, back erect, eyes flashing.
The vast majority of visitors are content to relish the scents, the bird life, and the interesting Victorian flowerbed edging tiles I’d gradually carried back to America after every visit to my mother’s cottage in rural England, They enjoy discovering the many semi-hidden statuary pieces while wandering through this peaceful place. We often laugh, exchange gardening tales, and chat about their visits to other, often enormous gardens in different countries. (Sunnybank is smaller and more intimate.) We might natter on about fountain installation, pruning techniques, and my dopey mistakes. Opinions about everything are bounced back and forth like basketballs.
These sorts of occurrences are the salt and pepper of my gardening year. They remind me that every day is an adventure. I never know what might happen. Gardening is rarely boring…
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