I wrote this essay last year, when my granddaughter, Mae, was only three. I hope you'll enjoy it. . .
Our neighbors are the gourmet gardeners of the outdoor visual feast —the Julia Childses, the Anthony Bourdains and Paul Prudhommes—serving up course after course of textures and colors in their gardens. Living in this neighborhood of master gardeners and horticultural experts, I frequently feel embarrassed and self-conscious at what passes for a garden at our house. And envious of theirs.
We are the people with the Betty-Crocker-casserole garden. I shouldn’t even call it a garden, really, as it’s usually made up of plants that have arrived uninvited and stay with the audacity of a party crasher who won’t go home. But each year we put ‘color-spots’ in a small square of earth at the top of our driveway so we have something to nurture and enjoy.
“Will you look at that pansy,” I’ll say to Hubby. “It’s really taking off.” I say this as though it’s the rarest tuberous begonia coming into to full bloom.
And he’ll reply, “And did you notice how the marigolds are holding their own against the slugs?” We take our own prideful pleasure in managing our ordinary items, such as petunias, impatiens, daisies and—every few years—a smattering of vegetables.
This year the lettuce did well, yielding salads every night for almost two months—
and the chard was delicious. The color-spots consisted of pink zinnias, yellow and rust-colored marigolds, tiny violets, impatiens in all colors (pink, purple, orange and white), and some gangly pink petunias that arrived as volunteers. Unsolicited red clover weaseled its way throughout every bare patch of earth. Our other veggies were carrots, beets, and one potted tomato plant. The vegetable garden was superb by our standards, although the beets and carrots were slightly disappointing—their size being perfect for Barbie and her friends (most of whom don’t like veggies much, I imagine.)
But thanks to my granddaughter, I learned all over again the lesson of relational perception—and gratitude. Three-year-old Mae and her parents were visiting from Canada. The pink zinnias enchanted her, and the cheery yellow marigolds appealed to her for their sunshine color. When I pointed out their pungent odor, she was all the more interested in picking them so we could enjoy their ‘little-bit-stinky’ smell. On the first day of her visit, we filled a tiny vase with yellow and pink flowers and kept it (and refreshed it) in a prominent place where she could see it.
On the last day of the visit, she asked if she could pick flowers to take home. I was all for it, but just as we started outside to get them, her mother remembered the border-crossing regulations. “No, Mae,” Mummy said, “remember how the border guard took the wildflowers you’d picked to bring for Grandpa’s birthday? We need to leave Mae-ma’s flowers here.”
Tears welled up in Mae’s eyes. “But I want to take flowers home,” she said in the saddest voice I’ve ever heard her use, and continued, “I want these flowers. Why can’t we have ‘bootiful’ flowers at our house like Mae-ma and Grandpa’s?”
My empathic tear-flow mechanism kicked in, and sympathetic tears sprang into my eyes. Oh, dear child, thank you, I thought. Yes, our small assortment of simple flowers is beautiful. I’ve let myself be overcome by envy, cowed by the splendor and scale of the neighborhood gardens. I hugged her tightly, then promised our flower garden would be here for her to enjoy when she visits next summer.
Mae immediately cheered up. And so did I—immensely.
© 2010 by Sara J. Glerum
All rights reserved. Electronic version published 2010