Saturday, May 06, 2006

In the garden

My mother was a garden club lady. Hers didn't meet in genteel little dresses and hats to sip tea from the good china and learn about exotic blooms. They wore tennis dresses and bracelets or designer sweats. They organized potlucks held in our subdivision's private little park that was otherwise used as a place for teenagers to smoke weed. Primarily, they were graciously and aggressively competitive about Yard of the Month. I'll never forget my mother's biggest competitor, our next door neighbor. She did her yardwork in a long sleeved white blouse,white jeans, gloves and hat tied on with a white scarf. Never did I see the tiniest grass stain on her apparel. Each month a sign was placed in the front yard of the most attractively groomed yard in the neighborhood. We could count on having it several times a year. I came to hate the months we had it, but I still have a small stash of faded blue ribbons with gold lettering tucked away inside my china cabinet.

Yard of the Month meant the lawn care that had to be kicked up several notches. Ours was done in a family effort as regular as clockwork. Every Thursday afternoon, on my father's half day off, we would tackle the yard with our regular chores. My sister manned the riding mower. My father did the edging, pruning the hollies and trimming the other shrubs. My mother planted floral borders of tulips, petunias and impatiens and beds of tomatos, zucchini and peppers. She tended the roses lining our driveway with a tenderness I envied. I always secretly enjoyed the congruence that my feisty, short tempered, shoot-from-the-hip mother grew the best impatiens in the neighborhood. I got stuck with pulling weeds and raking grass clippings or leaves that we would then all together take the curb for removal.

The trees which towered over our house routinely had their lower limbs trimmed to prevent their shade from interrupting the even greenness of the lush Bermuda grass. Woe unto any kid who tried to cut across the corner by going through the yard. Nothing invoked my mother's wrath more than the fear of a trail of footsteps forming a visible path through the yard. Our yard was perfect for croquet matches and badminton games. The dogwood trees, the twin birch and the grape vine became our standard locations for family photos. Its carefully tailored beauty was something to respect.

I quickly came to prefer the undeveloped woods and fields behind our house. For a few short years before their trees were levelled and plot lines were staked, their wildflowers, vines of muscadines and kudzu, hidden wild strawberries, and moss covered stones became my refuge. I didn't want to beat nature into submission. Even now, I still prefer the back fields of our farm where the grass is only tended by the grazing of cows.

A change is taking place in me though. I feel it. I look around my yard and wonder how all thirty of the hollies got to be as tall as the house and as shaggy as a hippy's head. Is that a blackberry vine that's invaded the snow ball bushes? Wouldn't that giant crepe myrtle look better if some of those little new shoots at the bottom were trimmed back so the main trunks would show better. The unidentified bushes are starting to swallow the water fountain, and my electric trimmers are beginning to look...sexy. Not to mention that real gardening would give me a chance to wear the straw hats that have been heretofore reserved for either poolside or the beach. The middle aged me values my fair skin more than the teenaged me desired to tan it.

I've kept a windowbox herb garden for some years now. I've needed some potted plants where I could get my hands dirty when I needed it. I've dreamed 0f adding a labyrinth to the backyard. I know the realities I have to deal with...the dog pen in need of repair, the clutter from the recently emptied storage building that's starting to spill over from the garage to the yard. I don't even want to think about the weeds. The stubbornness of nutgrass made me decide a long time ago that weeds had their place as well. Anything that holds onto life that tenaciously deserves its chance to grow. Then there's my schedule which already leaves me fighting to squeeze in time for myself. I know better to think that I can marshall my family to help the way that momma had us working.

I don't have it in me to be a garden club lady, but I don't think I can ever really escape its grasp. Those seeds were planted too long ago, and their roots are stubborn. My yard will probably remain a little shaggy and overgrown, but I think that fountain is coming out of hiding. Those trimmers just look too damn good.

5 Comments:

Blogger Gannet Girl said...

This is a wonderful piece of writing -- about traditions and expectations, about change and new growth, about return and compromise, about where you came from and who you are. I love it.

May 07, 2006 1:59 PM  
Blogger Lisa :-] said...

I wrote a garden post myself, today.

Your yard sounds like a huge job. My advice is to take it in little bites, and work on it in zones. You may never get it all done, but you can create little oases of pure magic.

I had to laugh at the lady who did all her gardening dressed in white. LOL! Just like when I cook, when I garden, I haven't done the job correctly if I don't wear half of it into the house when I'm done. :-]

May 07, 2006 9:18 PM  
Blogger JACKIE said...

Thirty holly trees. Wow. I love the description of the overgrown trees. I can't imagine doing yard work dressed totally in white without a large supply of bleach on hand.

Jackie

May 07, 2006 10:40 PM  
Blogger V said...

Cyn, I really enjoyed this reminiscense. The apple never falls far from the tree; we can feel the urgency being thrust upon us. And yet, choice tempers our reality.
V

May 08, 2006 2:34 PM  
Blogger Paul said...

I'm glad I had time to backtrack a bit. This is a fine piece of writing.

May 10, 2006 6:34 PM  

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