(Christian Courier column, June 22, 2015)
By the time you read this, I’ll be almost recuperated from two months of extreme gardening. Last fall we left for Florida without accomplishing much cleanup, so this past April consisted of endless days of raking leaves and clearing debris. May was all about weeding, planting and pruning. But June is sheer gratification. Time to sit back and marvel.
I recall last year’s June. Abundant spring rain had given my garden a turbo-boost of energy that resulted in lush exuberance. It was intoxicating. Vivid colours — the bright lime green of emerging tendrils on the elderberry, the sparkling yellow of marigolds, deep purple clematis, royal blue lobelia. The textures – fuzzy moss, waxy hens and chicks, the spidery veins of the caladium. Everything shone, except for the tiger sumac Mark decided to prune on a hot day, promptly killing half of it. Apparently, tiger sumacs don’t take well to being sliced and diced in the middle of a growth spurt. The real satisfaction last year, though, was the maturity of the garden, a five year project completed. It was so rewarding to see those rough original landscape sketches transformed into the artful vistas I’d imagined so long ago.
It will always be a work in progress, naturally, as gardens are. There are plants to relocate, holes to fill. We pulled out eight old cedars last spring, and suddenly, wow, the pear tree in the far corner, which had languished since we planted it, neither hot nor cold (something biblical there), started to shoot up like Jack’s beanstalk.
But truly the most edifying thing about the garden is simply how much time Mark and I spend there together. He enjoys all the things I don’t … filling the bird feeder, installing gadgets like wand attachments to hoses and setting up the rain barrels. He takes care of the gruesome tasks like disposing of the occasional dead bird or scooping the poop left behind by some rascally dog off the leash. One night we heard a rustling in the patio pot behind us. I dropped to one knee instantly, ready to sprint away like a mutant superhero. He calmly lifted the trailing bacopa to reveal a toad. He wondered if I wanted to kiss it. Oh, yes, we have fun in the garden.
He likes to tease me by offering opinions on my aesthetic choices: I think those cabbages would look better in rows, don’t you? That marijuana plant there needs to be pruned, doesn’t it? Of course, I have neither cabbages nor marijuana in my garden. The cabbages are sedums. The marijuana plant? Sumac. He makes up new names for the plants every day, so I’m never quite sure which one he’s talking about. It’s fun to show him new blooms that are emerging, or how much weeding I’ve accomplished that day. He makes a commendable effort to appear interested.
We like to watch the birds together. Of course, as I’ve already confessed in a previous column, I’m terrified of them (ornithophobia). Much of Mark’s enjoyment doesn’t really come from the birds, but from witnessing my fear in action. Do you know how aggressive a mama grackle can get if you (inadvertently) get too close to her baby? She will swoop right at your head! Squeals from me. Peals of laughter from him.
Every evening a neighbourhood cat slinks along our fence on some stealth mission of his own. The resident blue jays go insane. One night they all dive-bombed the cat! It was quite the melee. Better the cat than me, I say. Mark gives ridiculous names to the birds and squirrels, too, some of which are funny but not edifying, so I can’t share them here.
When we sit on the patio and have our coffee, watching the sun go down and waiting for the solar lights to flash on, we can be quietly content for long stretches. I might break the silence by telling him that the fence looks fantastic and thanks again for building that, honey. I might point out that our shed is the second-best one in Wyoming (bested only by our neighbour’s which has French doors and a porch). Thanks for building that, too, dear. I might mention that I saw a hummingbird today. We’ll talk about the weather, now that, as he says, I’m pretty close to being a farmer. We’ll discuss tomorrow’s plans. Golfing? I’ll ask (he golfs every day). He’ll say, “Yep, I might, for a change.”