Saturday, September 6, 2014

The Constant Gardener

One of the things I found most difficult when I left my home of the past five years was that it meant leaving my gardens.  When The Ex and I bought the property, there were no gardens.  There was an overgrown mess in the back yard, some vine-choked trees in the front yard, and a sparse lawn punctuated by muddy truck-tire ruts.
The Ex immediately arranged to have the dead trees removed, and shortly thereafter an actual driveway was installed.  But it was when I - a compulsive gardener - began excitedly making plans for flower beds and slate paths and bird baths that we had the first of our arguments about our new home.
You see, to say the house was in need of TLC would be to greatly understate matters.  We had our hands full with gutting and framing, flooring and sheetrock.  The Ex was correct in stating that the yard was the least of our worries.  He didn’t understand why, after spending a July afternoon ripping out 1970’s-era wood paneling and shag carpeting that reeked of stale dog urine, sweating bullets, I would choose to swing a pickaxe at the earth until the sun set and the mosquitoes devoured me.  He didn’t understand why I would rise early on a Sunday to machete my way through the brambles that had grown over a long-neglected vegetable garden.  He didn’t understand, and he made clear that he didn’t like it.
He’d come out of the house red-faced and scowling, waving his hands.  “Stop!  Stop!  What are you doing?”  I’d look around, trying to figure out what he meant.  Where was the emergency that had him so upset?
Oh, right.
I was gardening.
I just didn’t get why he was so bothered.  I didn’t mind if he felt it was time to sit down with a beer.  Why should he mind if I wanted to have my own beer while up to my elbows in mud and mulch?  I asked him that question every time he looked with disdain on my latest project.  He never answered.
Over the years, I transplanted a dozen trees, shrubs and perennials from locations they’d outgrown to places where they thrived.  I added more than three dozen new plants and trees.  The year my father passed away, I planted a dwarf blue spruce in his memory.  The variety?  Fat Albert.  It felt like a private little joke, as my dad’s name was Albert, but he was anything but fat.  I ran a 300 foot extension cord to the tree and decked it out in little white lights so it would sparkle in the darkest of winter nights.  I loved looking out my bedroom window on snowy evenings, the twinkle of that tree in the midst of my sleeping gardens making the child in me think of the lamppost in the woods of Narnia.
Recently, I greeted the real estate appraiser who’d come to our house as part of the divorce settlement process.  “I love your gardens!” she said as we walked the property.  “Great curb appeal.”  As she gushed over the lilacs, the hydrangea, the multiple varieties of holly, I felt faint.  While for years the story I’d told myself was that I was building a happy home, I realized every single shrub and flower bed held the memory of an argument.
"Some women buy shoes," I’d once told The Ex teasingly.  "I buy plants."
He never cracked a smile.
I never did learn what he so disliked about my gardening.  Was it that it took time away from him?  Was it that it cost money he felt shouldn’t be spent?  Was it that he’d been assaulted in childhood by a rogue rhododendron?
In the end, I don’t suppose the “why” of it matters.  The gardens I planted are no longer mine.  They are browning in the late summer, and I am moving on.  They will bloom again in the spring, and if The Ex doesn’t tend to them, I imagine my badass gardener self will suit up all in black and creep into the yard at midnight to prune and weed and water.
When you hear of a woman in South County arrested for trespassing andgardening at night, you’ll know just who they’re talking about.

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