Truth be told, acquiring a garden in need — on a lot twice our slice of Mesta Park — was part of the charm of this new place we’re calling home.
Too bad I failed to recall how gardening in unamended red dirt is like childbirth; the pain of bringing forth new life in Mesta Park — of amending red clay with compost and peat moss to a twelve-inch depth were memories I forgot too soon, covered up as they were, by three years of keeping company with jaunty faces of thriving plants.
But these gardens do offer consolation — especially with all the hard-scape left behind. Our large stone patio — a perfect perch to watch the morning sun rise above the trees — along with ground-level curbing that outlines the perimeter of our backyard fence gardens will someday, when time and weather become more spacious and inviting, become lovely bones to build new gardens around.
Most mornings I’m out back — in an effort to restore order — before the heat comes. Working my way around the gardens counterclockwise, I began with the east garden, though I’ve spent more time on the north, where lined up like soldiers, are twelve troops of Crape Myrtles that two weeks ago, were a mass of tangled branches, dead and alive, surrounded by waist-high weeds. Parasitic vines covered two. With neither strength nor tools to do more than scratch the surface of the soil around them — three inches is deep in these conditions — I’ve removed most weeds and vines and reformed the shrubs into the shape of their species.
While my garden legacy is a byproduct of neglect and drought, made worse by a home unoccupied many months, every garden holds hidden joys waiting for notice. The week before we moved in I noticed my first in a small stand of Hollyhocks blooming on the east side of our property, growing appropriately along an old chain-link fence. I saw them when beginning to weed out space for the few transplants I brought with me from Mesta Park.
Every morning I watered the Hollyhocks, alongside thirsty transplants — a few sprigs of Blue-Black Salvia and Russian Sage and a small crop of inch-high Cleome — that rewarded my care, by shriveling up and laying their heads on hot cracked soil. Had it not been for the Hollyhocks, blooming their long necks off, I may have given up on those transplants, for I felt a mite foolish watering plants which looked dead to the eye. But underneath there was life and all but a few have survived. Looking back, I now see the transplants had only let go of their surface looks to focus energy on rebuilding hidden roots, to regain their balance in soil different than they were accustom.
As I watered, I wondered who to thank for my favorite of all cottage flowers. I began with my new neighbor — the one who putters around in his own garden with such daily discipline — but he quickly told me the Hollyhocks that we both enjoy came from Marguerite, who lived in the next house east to him. In her nineties, Marguerite was one of the few original homeowners left in the neighborhood; when I expressed interest in writing her a note of thanks, my neighbor shared she was under around-the-clock care of others, hinting she was likely in a place beyond reach of any words I might care to write.
Yet the thought of thanking Marguerite did not go away. I thought of her again as I watered the Hollyhocks a few days ago, which now are mostly spent; though in their place are a few feathery seedlings that have sprung up which surely must be Cosmos. If so, could these too have come from Marguerite’s, since Cosmos are so often companions to Hollyhocks. How many years had these seeds laid beneath the surface, waiting for conditions to ripen?
The question was enough to move me to my computer, to look up the spelling of Marguerite’s name on local property tax records. One research led to another, and possibly to another, before I uncovered Marguerite’s recent obituary. She had died late February without our mutual neighbor’s notice. The news stunned me. It made me sad — on more than one level. But as I began to get my roots about me, I saw how Marguerite, at least to my way of thinking, was not beyond words of gratitude at all; that I can remember Marguerite with a grateful heart, anytime I water my east garden. And maybe even here, with these few words I’m scattering in digital space.
It’s enough, these words of mine. I’ll spread no other about Marguerite’s passing, across the fence or anywhere else; surely the neighbors will find out when the time is ripe.