Diary of a Garden Goddess, Part IV

<<–Diary of a Garden Goddess, Part III

(credit: Sheri Armstrong, canstockphoto.com)

(credit: Sheri Armstrong, canstockphoto.com)

June 17

A good day. I catch my first snakes and am stung by a wasp. I know it doesn’t sound good, but for me, Mrs. Wild at Heart, it was exciting. Both occur at The Remmick’s, a house with another big rock wall garden, two doors down from Hades. I dubbed it Hades II. In the morning, I spot a yellow jacket and tell Jill. Hattie says it’s probably nesting in the wall and  the owner will spray because yellow jackets are aggressive. To verify this, within two minutes I’m stung, and endure a white-hot sensation on my wrist, but only for a few minutes. I feel rather proud of my ability to endure wasp-venom.

An hour later I notice the snake.

Jill’s nearby and I call her attention to it.

“Get it,” she says, and, not thinking, I snatch. My gloved hand comes back with two snakes. One about a foot long and the other a few inches smaller, both brilliant green with yellow stripes. My heart lurches but I don’t squeal.

Luckily, Jill has the weed bucket ready and I’m able to drop them in immediately. They slither up the bucket’s sides, frantically trying to escape. I squirm.

“Grab some weeds,” orders Jill. I gather some up from the drying pile on the lawn and drop them over the snakes. They chill out.

“See, they just want some cover.”

“Woo-wee!” says Hattie, who’s joined us.

Jill leaves to get a shirt, to tie over the top of the bucket with a bungee cord.

“My God,” I say. “I’ve never even held a snake before. It’s a good thing I had gloves on, or I wouldn’t have done it.”

Hattie chuckles. “Your eyes were pretty big. Jill will take them home, put them in her garden. It’s not a good idea to have them here. Annie next door, her boyfriend’s killed snakes before.”

“Ribbon snakes? Why?”

“Cause she’s terrified.”

“But they’re beneficial.”

“Tell that to someone standing on a lawn chair, screaming,” says Hattie. “Oh, by the way, sweetie, you’ve completed the second milestone that certifies you as a true gardener.”

I feel a kinship towards Jill. I would have loved to take the snakes home but my chickens would probably have made a meal of them.

* * *

June 20

We’re back in the Shitloads of Money area and I suspect Jill may have been smoking Mother Nature. She has that goofy, very-pleased-with-it-all look, and she’s admiring the bush clematis a little too much.

Suddenly I hear bells playing, “It’s a ‘Grand Ole’ Flag.’ ”

“Where’s that coming from?” I ask Hattie.

“Oh, it’s the carillon in the church, up on the hill. It plays each noon.”

“Does it always play that song?”

“Sure does,” says Hattie. She rolls her eyes.

The extra-happy gardener walks by and says, “Wow, isn’t that something?”

“You should of heard it earlier, Jill,” I say. “They played ‘Ain’t Nothin But a Hound Dog.’ ”

“Really?” she asks.

As they’d say in slang-lish, she is so stoned. I’m practically bubbly too, with a feeling of superiority. I would never arrive at a client’s house in such a condition, though I do remember smoking pot with my boss once, at Jill’s age, at work. Oh yeah, I also got pretty intoxicated with that same boss during a luncheon celebration on my 21st birthday. Perhaps I should lose the smugness.

* * *

June 21

I’ve been checking out starting my own gardening business during my days off and I found my second job today when I called a city office about getting a business license. The woman I spoke to said, “You’re a gardener? I need one.” We set an appointment. As with the other job, I don’t tell Hattie or Jill.

* * *

June 24

I’m at Mike’s again, by myself. It is yet another 90-degree-plus day. Maybe I should name this garden Hades III. After doing a lot of weeding her son drops by and says hi. He’s a nice, kind of a doughy, middle-aged guy. I think he’s in medicine. Mike has me cut down the poppies, telling me I can save the decorative seed heads if I like, then goes into the house. As I’m performing this task near their sliding glass doors I have this creepy feeling that I’m being watched.

The last thing I do is put up a trellis and try to attach the incredible mess that’s laying all over the ground that is a honeysuckle vine. I do the best I can, wrestling with the son-of-a-seed, but it ends up looking far from perfect. I stay a few minutes longer, but Mike’s a nice lady; I don’t mind, I want to finish the work. I don’t record it.

Hattie calls me that night and says Mike doesn’t want me to come over any more; she’d like another gardener. She says I took too long to cut down the poppies. I’m stunned. I’ve never been fired in my life. I didn’t dawdle. I wonder what happened. Did it irritate her that I liked her son’s contributions to the garden, or maybe she thought I was charging her for the extra time I spent there, or maybe I just spent too much time admiring her flowers (though I didn’t think so). She was hyper-aware of the time clock, that I know. I decide I probably just wasn’t nose to the grindstone enough. Or, maybe, I didn’t “know my place.”

After some smarting and squirming, I realize I can’t waste time caring about this. I am still happy about Mike’s gift of free plants.

The client/service thing is really getting under my skin. I’ve gone nearly a decade  free as most can ever hope to be, and am now like a tiger lily stolen from the wild and crammed into a pot. I don’t like it. I fear I’m ruined for the work force, I’ll never be any good in the rat race. Even though this may signal an inevitable decline down the road, for now the awareness of this is sweet.

* * *

June 29

I complete my second freelance gardening job this weekend.

The woman’s name on the telephone was Iris, which I took as a good omen, and she lives alone in a newer neighborhood in a modest-sized house. When we meet I see she’s about fifty, pretty, quite feminine; her home is tastefully furnished. I admire her rose-patterned antique china in her antique oak hutch. She wants to start a garden, she’s sick of the grass, but doesn’t know a thing about the green world. She would like a couple of trellises with vines, and a planter on her front porch with perennials, ditto a small bed in back. I visit her grounds which include a patchy weed filled backyard and two small flower beds with feverfew seedlings and a few snapdragons. She covets her neighbor’s garden, an enclosed paradise of honeysuckle vines and roses. We visit it together.

I am unloosed to design this woman’s garden and during my ecstatic shopping excursion I buy in multiples of extra-feminine flowers: pasque flower, columbine, oriental poppy, salvia, ladies mantle, ‘Johnson’s Blue’ geranium, siberian iris, ‘Kent Beauty’ oregano, pink baby’s breath, ‘Husker Red’ penstemon, double hollyhocks, daylily, ‘Hidcote’ lavender and ‘Rose Queen’ salvia. Several roses: a dark rose and white Meideland for her porch, a ‘John Davis’ climbing rose for the new bed below her deck, and a ‘Fairy’ polyantha for a large pot. A few vines: clematis tangutica, Hall’s honeysuckle and trumpet creeper ‘Madame Galen’ will begin the softening of her fenced-in backyard. And of course, I add a few bags of soil amendment. I find a playdate for the girls on Saturday so Andy can help me haul two fan trellises for the fence and two trellis panels to cover and beautify the space below her back deck. He hangs them for me.

I love it.

I can see how I could develop my own business easily. Problem is, while I love creating gardens, I love writing, and being home, so much more. The seed of a green-hearted novel’s been germinating and now it’s demanding to be cultivated on paper. And it’s been almost a month since my girls got out of school. Even part time is too much time away.

* * *

July 3

On the day I begin creating childlike scenarios of intrigue with worms, dandelions, and bluegrass and then tiptoe through sexual-in-nature garden fantasies, I take a 12:40 pee break at the Shitloads of Money neighborhood gas station/convenience store. I drive my seven-year-old Taurus, and as I stop at the intersection right next to the store, a man, about to cross the street on foot, stops too. He waves my car on, his gestures grand. As I pull in the parking lot he walks by and says, “THANK YOU!”

His rudeness unsettles me. Was I supposed to insist he crossed before me? Oh, no sir, after you! As I dig for change in my purse a woman pulls up at the pumps. She’s young, blonde, skinny with huge boobs, in the biggest SUV money can buy this side of a Hummer. I’ve come across one of the area’s indigenous species, a trophy wife. She leaves the behemoth running while she darts into the store. Here it’s safe to leave a new vehicle running, door unlocked. No car thief would be so incredibly stupid in this part of town, where police service is probably almost instantaneous. I’m angry at the jerk at the crossroad and sorely want to pass it on to the trophy bride, to yell, “Hey, gas waster, turn off your damn engine!”

The community toilet that we gardening ladies share with all the gentlemen workers in the area (pool men, lawn mowing men, tree men, construction workers, a man for every need, nothing too great or small) is half-clogged. I won’t go into the disgusting, sickening details. I’m afraid to flush, but I’m near bursting, so I pee anyway, hovering. After I pull up my pants, I push down the handle and move away from the seatless toilet as fast as I can. The contents, thankfully, go down. My bile rises.

Our clients. Would it be too much to offer facilities at their homes, for their hired help who are busting their asses to make their lives more magically beautiful? Really, would an outhouse be too dear? I think how Hattie could make even an outhouse tres chic, covered with vines and roses. It would definitely be better than this communal shithole. Then I wonder why I’m wasting my time thinking about what the privileged should do.

That afternoon at the Rennick’s I share my idea. I’ve temporarily gotten over my shitty mood because at this house I have some company. I’m not all by myself, going crazy.

“Great idea,” Hattie says. “Only problem is, the workers would probably use it as a place to smoke pot.”

I hadn’t thought of that. So, who cares?

I bitch a little more and Hattie tells me that in all the years she’s been a gardener, she’s never gotten so much as a card on Christmas from the Shitloads of Money crowd.

* * *

July 8

By the second week in July, all the new installations have gone in, the flowerpots and hanging baskets and windowboxes have been filled. The weeds are under control. Now it’s just mind-numbing maintenance. Deadheading, endless weeding. I don’t want to be a hired gardener any more, and I’m a little doubtful I’ll ever start my own gardening business. It’s too hard physically, it’s too hard on the ego, and I don’t like being away from my daughters when they are home all day during the summer. Life’s too short. I tell Hattie that I’m going to leave, that I want to get back to writing and my family. She understands.

I feel liberated.

Postscript: February 12, the next year

I had a physical legacy from the gardening experiment, my right elbow ached for months. Tennis elbow, from using a shovel, doing the manual lawn edging. It finally stopped this week. I can’t wait to get back to gardening this year, in my own garden.

I talked to Hattie last night. She said she didn’t last the summer with the heiress. The green grind also took its toll on Jill, and she decided in the fall to enroll in nursing school. She’s able to make enough through waitressing a few nights a week to pay the bills. Waitressing–another service job, but one that is lucrative compared to creating beauty and toiling in the soil. I’m sorry that things weren’t anywhere near as rosy for Jill as I had imagined.

Hattie says she’ll start looking for some more crew members in a month or so. She says she thinks gardening must be a calling, as there are many who try it and don’t stay with it. Only she’s reached those other milestones of the true gardener, ones that may forever remain a mystery to me.

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Courtesy of GREENWOMAN BOOKS

Published by Greenwoman Publishing, LLC

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Copyright © Sandra Knauf, 2013

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