Diary of a Garden Goddess, Part III
Hattie sends me to Mike’s alone today. As Mike shows me where to work, I comment on a Salvia argentea, a huge, hairy-leafed, silver plant now at its rosette stage. Mike says, “Oh, Monty bought that.” She says it in a dismissive way that bothers me, the same tone she used when I commented on some interesting pavers that Monty bought. I think it’s cool her son’s into gardening, and feel sort of sorry for him, that his mom’s so prickly.
I weed for a couple of hours in the 90-plus degree heat, then take a thirty-minute lunch break for an iced cappuccino. I’m filthy when I walk in the coffee shop, covered in dirt and sweat, but I feel good, fully endorphin-ized by the sun and work.
Mike offers some orange hawkweed I’m digging out of her beds, and some other weed, I think it’s a malva. “The only name I know it by is ‘devil’s paintbrush,’” she says of the hawkweed. “I brought it from back East, where it grows wild all over the place. They say it’s a terrible weed, but it’s easy to pull up, I don’t think it’s bad at all.” The plant has a low, mounded, hairy-leafed base with thin ten-inch stems that shoot up and are topped by a burnt orange flower cluster. It’s sculptural, interesting. Mike’s like the flower’s base, short, stocky, with short hair. She’s interesting too, but, like the weed, not easy to interpret.
She comes out to tell me when it’s time to leave, and seems concerned when I don’t pack up right away. I finish the area I’m working in, about ten more minutes, and I don’t mark it on my card, figuring it would be a nice way to show my gratitude for the pass-alongs. It’s been a lonely morning, in a stranger’s garden, but I’m excited about the free weeds.
My daughters, Zora, age nine, and Lily, six, have been out of school for almost a week. They hardly miss me at all. They’re having a grand time hanging out with Dad, and he with them. The house is about at the same stage of decay as it usually is, so I can’t claim things are going to hell.
Years ago, when we were first married, Andy stayed home for a year working on our first home, a Victorian-era house so dilapidated my mom said she wept after her first visit. I know Andy’d like to have the freedom I’ve enjoyed for the last decade, working at home. I’m surprised at my own feelings of antsy-ness and how I miss them all, like they’re having a party that I am not invited to.
* * *
The crew spends the morning at the name-brand heiress’ home. I hear her and Hattie argue twice. The first time is over some perennials Madeline bought mail order from an expensive East Coast nursery.
They’re standing over the tiny plants (that Hattie and Jill planted personally two weeks ago) and Madeline says, “I just don’t understand why they’re not doing better.”
“Madeline, they’re fine,” says Hattie. “They’ve only been in two weeks. They have to establish their root system in the new soil before they’ll start having top growth.”
This does not please the heiress. “They’re just so small. I’m not happy with them.”
“You could have bought bigger plants locally, for less money,” says Hattie, and I cringe. It’s Hattie’s buy-local-think-global policy; she’s not able to resist. “And they would have been acclimated too.”
Madeline tosses her well-coiffed head. “I suppose.”
Later, when it’s almost time to leave, Hattie introduces me to Madeline, telling her I’m “a Master Gardener.” This pleases Madeline and she smiles graciously, as do I. I return the Osmocote to the potting shed and run to the back to look for my bypass pruners. Two minutes later I’m back, and find the ladies still standing in the driveway.
“I buy them small, because when you buy a smaller plant, you’re going to have a healthier plant,” I hear Hattie explain. I notice the object of the conversation is the gallon-sized plant she’s holding in one hand, a foot-tall lavender-bloomed clematis that was planted earlier in the trellised area near the driveway.
“I would just like a bigger one,” says Madeline.
“It won’t take that long for it to grow once it becomes established,” Hattie insists. “I guarantee you it will catch up.” She smiles at Madeline and I see she’s decided to turn on her considerable charm. “Now, what would you rather have, a healthier plant or instant gratification?”
The pause is not as long as a gnat’s ass. “Instant gratification,” Madeline says. She smiles back at Hattie when she says it, then looks over at me, and I feel a certain naughty (and guilty) admiration for her. Hattie looks dejected.
In the truck, Hattie tells me that Madeline is having all the perennials she special-ordered from some “Fancy East Coast Flower Farm” pulled out. She is seething.
Zora and Lily had a great time with their dad today, as if I haven’t spent the last decade of my life being their personal entertainment center and doting, loving, 24/7 momma. I even read them all the Harry Potter books–-out loud. What gratitude. Andy’s dinner was very good, too.
* * *
Jill and I get into a disagreement over a plant identification at one of her gardens. She’s been bounding around happily for the last two hours, fine tuning whilst I weed, like she’s in a personal paradise she created with one hand tied behind her back. I am jealous; she’s younger, in charge, doesn’t have children to pine for while she toils. She says a plant is fernleaf yarrow, I say it’s tansy. The plant isn’t in bloom. I remark on the pungent foliage, and smartly share my knowledge that the word tansy comes from the French word for “nose-twister.” I’ve got one in my yard.
“It’s a fernleaf yarrow!” Jill’s exasperated, and I feel oddly satisfied that I have irritated her. This is not like me.
I look the plant up that evening. Jill’s right, it is fernleaf yarrow. My feelings for Jill are mixed. I like her and I don’t. She seems to have all the answers, her compass confidently pointing to a direction of business ownership and independence at such a young age, when I’m rapidly approaching middle age and I can’t really tell where the hell it is I’m headed, though I am beginning to worry it may be an entire life of scraping by and not knowing what it is, beside mothering, that I’m supposed to be doing.
Andy’s teased me numerous times about how I can’t seem to settle on anything. I’ve investigated becoming an interior designer, tried my hand at journalism, thought about opening a tea shop. Doctor, lawyer, Indian chief, what the hell is it that I am meant for? I love writing and gardening more than anything and so many things hold me in rapt fascination. Motherhood has been my priority, and will be always, but now that the girls are growing older we both need more independence. I know I shouldn’t cling too tightly, but at the same time I know these years will not last. I don’t like being away from them.
Jill’s lucky. She knows more about gardening than I do, and even had the good fortune to be raised by gardeners. Not only mom, but grandma too! I had to learn it all on my own. No one to guide me down the primrose path. I suspect Hattie likes Jill better too–how could she not? My darker side sees Jill as a little know-it-all, still-wet-behind-the-ears, smartass. My truthful side says I’m the one being a jerk.
* * *
We’re at a surgeon’s home and it’s one of the most beautiful gardens so far. There’s a pool in the backyard and bursting, blooming, lovely English cottage style beds all around, designed and planted by the missus, a highly-educated, likeable, down-to-earth woman. She chats with us and I learn she enjoys shopping at Walmart and Home Depot for plants. That stops me. All this and . . . Walmart? She’s the opposite of the franchise queen. Hattie and I refuse to shop at Walmart, knowing that low prices for some come at a steep price for others, namely American businesses and Walmart employees.
This garden would be a glorious place to weed indeed except for one thing. There’s dog shit everywhere, complements of an Orson Wells-sized retriever who stays in his kennel while we’re there (his imprisonment’s due to his excitable nature–if loose we’d all be humped). There’s definitely something amiss about this dog because his urine, which is also everywhere, reeks.
As I weed, gingerly avoiding turds, longing for a tussy-mussy to hold to my nose, I wonder at the mess. While I am far from fastidious, this is beyond even my level of tolerance. I think, surely if these people can afford three gardeners to come out, at twenty dollars an hour apiece, can’t they afford to hire someone to pick up the dog shit?
At another garden one of the tasks include braiding daffodil foliage. The flowers are wilted and gone, the long green leaves of the daffodils are floppy and, I suppose, not pretty enough to display as is, and yet the bulb needs the energy garnered from those green leaves so they cannot be cut off. I feel absolutely ridiculous braiding daffodil foliage. For some reason it reminds me of extravagant pubic hair grooming, like when a relative told me she had her bush trimmed into a heart shape in celebration of Valentine’s Day. Just (ugh) too much.
* * *
We’re in Hades again, weeding together in a group, Hattie, Jill and I. June is also turning out to be the hottest on record and we’re getting bitchy. Hattie asks me what’s my astrological sign.
“Oh, Capricorn,” she says, lifting an eyebrow. “My mom’s a Capricorn, I know all about you.” Her tone is definitely on the smart-alecky side, with the tiniest hint of hostility, and I wonder what she’s getting at. She’s mentioned she and her mom have been at odds many times, over religion, politics, life in general.
“Well, what’s yours?”
Well, I’ll be damned, I think. My mom’s a Libra and I can see some similarities between Hattie and Mom, the perhaps just slightly too fun-loving, living-for-the-day attitude, the belief that their world view is the only world view.
“Ha,” I say, “I know all about you, too.”
Courtesy of GREENWOMAN BOOKS
Published by Greenwoman Publishing, LLC
Greenwoman Publishing, LLC, P. O. Box 6587, Colorado Springs, Colorado, 80934-6587, U.S.A.
Copyright © Sandra Knauf, 2013
All rights reserved
First published in the United States of America.