Monthly Archives: August 2016

Through a Garden Gate

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Framing the Garden in Photo and Poetry

Gardeners and photographers have in common a reverence for “frame.” Gardeners prune to get the right view through a bush to another plant, a stone, a gate. The photographer crops a photo to change the focus. When a poet collaborates to hone to the essence of a garden, a beautiful book of poetry and photos of a large garden results: Though a Garden Gate.

The photographer and landscape designer of his own garden is Vincent Covello who is well-known as a risk and crisis consultant. The poet is Charlotte Mandel who has received widespread recognition as a poet from New Jersey who recently retired from teaching poetry writing at Barnard College Center for Research on Women.

Mandel issues “A guided invitation to a garden path” in one of her poems. The book is a leisurely stroll through a carefully designed ten-acre garden landscape that catches the frames of a Chinese Garden and gate, dark wood torii gates, standing stones at sunrise, falling water, a Japanese fountain and the reflections of oak leaves in a pond. The seasons kaleidoscope through poetry and photos of the flowering cherry in its “breeze-sent dance,” the vernal equinox’s “report on summer’s evolving designs,” how October acts like a season’s traffic signal, and the first footsteps in snow through an aging gate garden waits through winter with the animals in their burrows. The book captures both the joy and wabi sabi of gardening.

In the middle of this collaboration, the poet and photographer stop at “Enclave –”

Later afternoon, a cloisonné tray
will be brought with two
crystal stemmed glasses
of dark red dubonnet
and on other days
a golden sherry

This is where the gardener rests after “assiduous caretaking – lift dig prune weed” and the poet gets to raise her glass to the twilight and assemble the spirit that comes close to the end of the collection:

Let the garden teach patience
in changes of earth, water, rock, wind,
the play of wills by a gardener
who has gazed at starved ground,
a straggle of brush and skeletal trees,
and said, “Let there be this.”

We gardeners know the hard work of arranging, rearranging, cutting, digging – creating garden frames that lift us out of the ordinary into transformation into quiet beauty. This book may well serve as an inspiration to other poet-gardeners like me to revere our work from the sky blue morning glory in August heat to the quiet winter garden in repose. It did that for me.

—Tricia Knoll

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The author and photographer; photo by Carol Ann Mandel.

Through a Garden Gate, a collaboration of photographs by Vincent Covello and poet Charlotte Mandel, (WordTech Communications, 2015). 57 pages of poetry and color photographs. Available at Amazon for $20.

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Tricia Knoll is an Oregon poet with two books in print – Ocean’s Laughter (Aldrich Press 2016) and Urban Wild (Finishing Line Press 2014). Website: triciaknoll.com

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Radish Gets Around

Greenwoman Comix Heading No Text USR_edited-5

I don’t think this one appeared in any of the Greenwoman volumes, but in each issue we (meaning myself, a.k.a. Mae Fayne, and my daughter Zora, a.k.a. Angus Skillet), tried to create a comic. Anthropomorphism, hooray!

—Sandra Knauf

Radish Gets Around Final

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August Raspberries

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Raspberry – Red Antwerpske, Danish Archives via Wikimedia Commons

August Raspberries

When life comes down to eating slightly white
raspberries, when aging purple ones dry up half
off the drupelets or bird plucked remnants hang
jiggered and some canes wither into brown,
I hardly recall solstice and what fresh coming on
felt like. Birds made off with the last blueberries.
Sure, the zucchini, onions, and bowling ball
squash signal time goes fat in spades. Kale
holds up its reliable head. This sun is hot
enough to melt the frozen raspberries we picked
and stored weeks ago. I’m just not ready to eat them.

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Photo by Darrell Salk.

Tricia Knoll is an Oregon poet with two books in print – Ocean’s Laughter (Aldrich Press 2016) and Urban Wild (Finishing Line Press 2014). Website: triciaknoll.com

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Diary of Garden Goddess – Part III

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“Border trellis with clematis in a garden in Clavering, Essex, England.” Photo by Acabashi, via Wikimedia Commons.

This is a mostly-autobiographical story I wrote quite a few years ago, when my daughters were little and I tried my hand as a gardener-for-hire for part of the summer. It was first published in Greenwoman #4.

—Sandra Knauf

June 8

The crew spends the morning at the name-brand heiress’ home. I hear her and Hattie argue twice. The first time is over some perennials Madeline bought mail order from an expensive East Coast nursery.

They’re standing over the tiny plants (that Hattie and Jill planted personally two weeks ago) and Madeline says, “I just don’t understand why they’re not doing better.”
“Madeline, they’re fine,” says Hattie. “They’ve only been in two weeks. They have to establish their root system in the new soil before they’ll start having top growth.”

This does not please the heiress. “They’re just so small. I’m not happy with them.”

“You could have bought bigger plants locally, for less money,” says Hattie, and I cringe. It’s Hattie’s buy-local-think-global policy; she’s not able to resist. “And they would have been acclimated too.”

Madeline tosses her well-coiffed head. “I suppose.”

Later, when it’s almost time to leave, Hattie introduces me to Madeline, telling her I’m “a Master Gardener.” This pleases Madeline and she smiles graciously, as do I. I return the Osmocote to the potting shed and run to the back to look for my bypass pruners. Two minutes later I’m back, and find the ladies still standing in the driveway.

“I buy them small, because when you buy a smaller plant, you’re going to have a healthier plant,” I hear Hattie explain. I notice the object of the conversation is the gallon-sized plant she’s holding in one hand, a foot-tall lavender-bloomed clematis that was planted earlier in the trellised area near the driveway.

“I would just like a bigger one,” says Madeline.

“It won’t take that long for it to grow once it becomes established,” Hattie insists. “I guarantee you it will catch up.” She smiles at Madeline and I see she’s decided to turn on her considerable charm. “Now, what would you rather have, a healthier plant or instant gratification?”

The pause is not as long as a gnat’s ass. “Instant gratification,” Madeline says. She smiles back at Hattie when she says it, then looks over at me, and I feel a certain naughty (and guilty) admiration for her. Hattie looks dejected.

In the truck, Hattie tells me that Madeline is having all the perennials she special-ordered from some “Fancy East Coast Flower Farm” pulled out. She is seething.

Zora and Lily had a great time with their dad today, as if I haven’t spent the last decade of my life being their personal entertainment center and doting, loving, 24/7 momma. I even read them all the Harry Potter books—out loud. What gratitude. Andy’s dinner was very good, too.

June 10

Jill and I get into a disagreement over a plant identification at one of her gardens. She’s been bounding around happily for the last two hours, fine tuning whilst I weed, like she’s in a personal paradise she created with one hand tied behind her back. I am jealous; she’s younger, in charge, doesn’t have children to pine for while she toils. She says a plant is fernleaf yarrow, I say it’s tansy. The plant isn’t in bloom. I remark on the pungent foliage, and smartly share my knowledge that the word tansy comes from the French word for “nose-twister.” I’ve got one in my yard.

“It’s a fernleaf yarrow!” Jill’s exasperated, and I feel oddly satisfied that I have irritated her. This is not like me.

I look the plant up that evening. Jill’s right, it is fernleaf yarrow. My feelings for Jill are mixed. I like her and I don’t. She seems to have all the answers, her compass confidently pointing to a direction of business ownership and independence at such a young age, when I’m rapidly approaching middle age and I can’t really tell where the hell it is I’m headed, though I am beginning to worry it may be an entire life of scraping by and not knowing what it is, beside mothering, that I’m supposed to be doing.

Andy’s teased me numerous times about how I can’t seem to settle on anything. I’ve investigated becoming an interior designer, tried my hand at journalism, thought about opening a tea shop. Doctor, lawyer, Indian chief, what the hell is it that I am meant for? I love writing and gardening more than anything and so many things hold me in rapt fascination. Motherhood has been my priority, and will be always, but now that the girls are growing older we both need more independence. I know I shouldn’t cling too tightly, but at the same time I know these years will not last. I don’t like being away from them.

Jill’s lucky. She knows more about gardening than I do, and even had the good fortune to be raised by gardeners. Not only mom, but grandma too! I had to learn it all on my own. No one to guide me down the primrose path. I suspect Hattie likes Jill better too–how could she not? My darker side sees Jill as a little know-it-all, still-wet-behind-the-ears, smartass. My truthful side says I’m the one being a jerk.

June 13

We’re at a surgeon’s home and it’s one of the most beautiful gardens so far. There’s a pool in the backyard and bursting, blooming, lovely English cottage style beds all around, designed and planted by the missus, a highly-educated, likeable, down-to-earth woman.

She chats with us and I learn she enjoys shopping at Walmart and Home Depot for plants. That stops me. All this and . . . Walmart? She’s the opposite of the franchise queen. Hattie and I refuse to shop at Walmart, knowing that low prices for some come at a steep price for others, namely American businesses and Walmart employees.

This garden would be a glorious place to weed indeed except for one thing. There’s dog shit everywhere, complements of an Orson Wells-sized retriever who stays in his kennel while we’re there (his imprisonment’s due to his excitable nature—if loose we’d all be humped).

There’s definitely something amiss about this dog because his urine, which is also everywhere, reeks.

As I weed, gingerly avoiding turds, longing for a tussy-mussy to hold to my nose, I wonder at the mess. While I am far from fastidious, this is beyond even my level of tolerance. I think, surely if these people can afford three gardeners to come out, at twenty dollars an hour apiece, can’t they afford to hire someone to pick up the dog shit?

At another garden one of the tasks include braiding daffodil foliage. The flowers are wilted and gone, the long green leaves of the daffodils are floppy and, I suppose, not pretty enough to display as is, and yet the bulb needs the energy garnered from those green leaves so they cannot be cut off. I feel absolutely ridiculous braiding daffodil foliage. For some reason it reminds me of extravagant pubic hair grooming, like when a relative told me she had her bush trimmed into a heart shape in celebration of Valentine’s Day.

June 15

We’re in Hades again, weeding together in a group, Hattie, Jill and I. June is also turning out to be the hottest on record and we’re getting bitchy. Hattie asks me what’s my astrological sign.

“Capricorn.”

“Oh, Capricorn,” she says, lifting an eyebrow. “My mom’s a Capricorn, I know all about you.” Her tone is definitely on the smart-alecky side, with the tiniest hint of hostility, and I wonder what she’s getting at. She’s mentioned she and her mom have been at odds many times, over religion, politics, life in general.

“Well, what’s yours?”

“Libra.”

Well, I’ll be damned, I think. My mom’s a Libra and I can see some similarities between Hattie and Mom, the perhaps just slightly too fun-loving, living-for-the-day attitude, the belief that their world view is the only world view.

“Ha,” I say, “I know all about you, too.”

June 17

A good day. I catch my first snakes and am stung by a wasp. I know it doesn’t sound good, but for me, Mrs. Wild at Heart, it was exciting. Both occur at The Remmick’s, a house with another big rock wall garden, two doors down from Hades. I dubbed it Hades II. In the morning, I spot a yellow jacket and tell Jill. Hattie says it’s probably nesting in the wall and the owner will spray because yellow jackets are aggressive. To verify this, within two minutes I’m stung, and endure a white-hot sensation on my wrist, but only for a few minutes. I feel rather proud of my ability to endure wasp-venom.

An hour later I notice the snake.

Jill’s nearby and I call her attention to it.

“Get it,” she says, and, not thinking, I snatch. My gloved hand comes back with two snakes. One about a foot long and the other a few inches smaller, both brilliant green with yellow stripes. My heart lurches but I don’t squeal.

Luckily, Jill has the weed bucket ready and I’m able to drop them in immediately. They slither up the bucket’s sides, frantically trying to escape. I squirm.

“Grab some weeds,” orders Jill. I gather some up from the drying pile on the lawn and drop them over the snakes. They chill out.

“See, they just want some cover.”

“Woo-wee!” says Hattie, who’s joined us.

Jill leaves to get a shirt, to tie over the top of the bucket with a bungee cord.

“My God,” I say. “I’ve never even held a snake before. It’s a good thing I had gloves on, or I wouldn’t have done it.”

Hattie chuckles. “Your eyes were pretty big. Jill will take them home, put them in her garden. It’s not a good idea to have them here. Annie next door, her boyfriend’s killed snakes before.”

“Ribbon snakes? Why?”

“Cause she’s terrified.”

“But they’re beneficial.”

“Tell that to someone standing on a lawn chair, screaming,” says Hattie. “Oh, by the way, sweetie, you’ve completed the second milestone that certifies you as a true gardener.”

I feel a kinship towards Jill. I would have loved to take the snakes home but my chickens would probably have made a meal of them.

ribbon snake

June 20

We’re back in the Shitloads of Money area and I suspect Jill may have been smoking Mother Nature. She has that goofy, very-pleased-with-it-all look, and she’s admiring the bush clematis a little too much.

Suddenly I hear bells playing, “It’s a ‘Grand Ole’ Flag.’ ”

“Where’s that coming from?” I ask Hattie.

“Oh, it’s the carillon in the church, up on the hill. It plays each noon.”

“Does it always play that song?”

“Sure does,” says Hattie. She rolls her eyes.

The extra-happy gardener walks by and says, “Wow, isn’t that something?”

“You should of heard it earlier, Jill,” I say. “They played ‘Ain’t Nothin But a Hound Dog.’ ”

“Really?” she asks.

As they’d say in slang-lish, she is so stoned. I’m practically bubbly too, with a feeling of superiority. I would never arrive at a client’s house in such a condition, though I do remember smoking pot with my boss once, at Jill’s age, at work. Oh yeah, I also got pretty intoxicated with that same boss during a luncheon celebration on my 21st birthday. Perhaps I should lose the smugness.

June 21

I’ve been checking out starting my own gardening business during my days off and I found my second job today when I called a city office about getting a business license. The woman I spoke to said, “You’re a gardener? I need one.” We set an appointment. As with the other job, I don’t tell Hattie or Jill.

June 24

I’m at Mike’s again, by myself. It is yet another 90-degree-plus day. Maybe I should name this garden Hades III. After doing a lot of weeding her son drops by and says hi. He’s a nice, kind of a doughy, middle-aged guy. I think he’s in medicine. Mike has me cut down the poppies, telling me I can save the decorative seed heads if I like, then goes into the house. As I’m performing this task near their sliding glass doors I have this creepy feeling that I’m being watched.

The last thing I do is put up a trellis and try to attach the incredible mess that’s laying all over the ground that is a honeysuckle vine. I do the best I can, wrestling with the son-of-a-seed, but it ends up looking far from perfect. I stay a few minutes longer, but Mike’s a nice lady; I don’t mind, I want to finish the work. I don’t record it.

Hattie calls me that night and says Mike doesn’t want me to come over any more; she’d like another gardener. She says I took too long to cut down the poppies. I’m stunned. I’ve never been fired in my life. I didn’t dawdle. I wonder what happened. Did it irritate her that I liked her son’s contributions to the garden, or maybe she thought I was charging her for the extra time I spent there, or maybe I just spent too much time admiring her flowers (though I didn’t think so). She was hyper-aware of the time clock, that I know. I decide I probably just wasn’t nose to the grindstone enough. Or, maybe, I didn’t “know my place.”

After some smarting and squirming, I realize I can’t waste time caring about this. I am still happy about Mike’s gift of free plants.

The client/service thing is really getting under my skin. I’ve gone nearly a decade free as most can ever hope to be, and am now like a tiger lily stolen from the wild and crammed into a pot. I don’t like it. I fear I’m ruined for the work force, I’ll never be any good in the rat race. Even though this may signal an inevitable decline down the road, for now the awareness of this is sweet.

June 29

I complete my second freelance gardening job this weekend.

The woman’s name on the telephone was Iris, which I took as a good omen, and she lives alone in a newer neighborhood in a modest-sized house. When we meet I see she’s about fifty, pretty, quite feminine; her home is tastefully furnished. I admire her rose-patterned antique china in her antique oak hutch. She wants to start a garden, she’s sick of the grass, but doesn’t know a thing about the green world. She would like a couple of trellises with vines, and a planter on her front porch with perennials, ditto a small bed in back. I visit her grounds which include a patchy weed filled backyard and two small flower beds with feverfew seedlings and a few snapdragons. She covets her neighbor’s garden, an enclosed paradise of honeysuckle vines and roses. We visit it together.

I am unloosed to design this woman’s garden and during my ecstatic shopping excursion I buy in multiples of extra-feminine flowers: pasque flower, columbine, oriental poppy, salvia, ladies mantle, ‘Johnson’s Blue’ geranium, siberian iris, ‘Kent Beauty’ oregano, pink baby’s breath, ‘Husker Red’ penstemon, double hollyhocks, daylily, ‘Hidcote’ lavender and ‘Rose Queen’ salvia. Several roses: a dark rose and white Meideland for her porch, a ‘John Davis’ climbing rose for the new bed below her deck, and a ‘Fairy’ polyantha for a large pot. A few vines: clematis tangutica, Hall’s honeysuckle and trumpet creeper ‘Madame Galen’ will begin the softening of her fenced-in backyard. And of course, I add a few bags of soil amendment. I find a playdate for the girls on Saturday so Andy can help me haul two fan trellises for the fence and two trellis panels to cover and beautify the space below her back deck. He hangs them for me.

I love it.

I can see how I could develop my own business easily. Problem is, while I love creating gardens, I love writing, and being home, so much more. The seed of a green-hearted novel’s been germinating and now it’s demanding to be cultivated on paper. And it’s been almost a month since my girls got out of school. Even part time is too much time away.

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July 3

On the day I begin creating childlike scenarios of intrigue with worms, dandelions, and bluegrass and then tiptoe through sexual-in-nature garden fantasies, I take a 12:40 pee break at the Shitloads of Money neighborhood gas station/convenience store. I drive my seven-year-old Taurus, and as I stop at the intersection right next to the store, a man, about to cross the street on foot, stops too. He waves my car on, his gestures grand. As I pull in the parking lot he walks by and says, “THANK YOU!”

His rudeness unsettles me. Was I supposed to insist he crossed before me? Oh, no sir, after you! As I dig for change in my purse a woman pulls up at the pumps. She’s young, blonde, skinny with huge boobs, in the biggest SUV money can buy this side of a Hummer. I’ve come across one of the area’s indigenous species, a trophy wife. She leaves the behemoth running while she darts into the store. Here it’s safe to leave a new vehicle running, door unlocked. No car thief would be so incredibly stupid in this part of town, where police service is probably almost instantaneous. I’m angry at the jerk at the crossroad and sorely want to pass it on to the trophy bride, to yell, “Hey, gas waster, turn off your damn engine!”

The community toilet that we gardening ladies share with all the gentlemen workers in the area (pool men, lawn mowing men, tree men, construction workers, a man for every need, nothing too great or small) is half-clogged. I won’t go into the disgusting, sickening details. I’m afraid to flush, but I’m near bursting, so I pee anyway, hovering. After I pull up my pants, I push down the handle and move away from the seatless toilet as fast as I can. The contents, thankfully, go down. My bile rises.

Our clients. Would it be too much to offer facilities at their homes, for their hired help who are busting their asses to make their lives more magically beautiful? Really, would an outhouse be too dear? I think how Hattie could make even an outhouse tres chic, covered with vines and roses. It would definitely be better than this communal shithole. Then I wonder why I’m wasting my time thinking about what the privileged should do.

That afternoon at the Rennick’s I share my idea. I’ve temporarily gotten over my shitty mood because at this house I have some company. I’m not all by myself, going crazy.

“Great idea,” Hattie says. “Only problem is, the workers would probably use it as a place to smoke pot.”

I hadn’t thought of that. So, who cares?

I bitch a little more and Hattie tells me that in all the years she’s been a gardener, she’s never gotten so much as a card on Christmas from the Shitloads of Money crowd.

July 8

By the second week in July, all the new installations have gone in, the flowerpots and hanging baskets and windowboxes have been filled. The weeds are under control. Now it’s just mind-numbing maintenance. Deadheading, endless weeding. I don’t want to be a hired gardener any more, and I’m a little doubtful I’ll ever start my own gardening business. It’s too hard physically, it’s too hard on the ego, and I don’t like being away from my daughters when they are home all day during the summer. Life’s too short. I tell Hattie that I’m going to leave, that I want to get back to writing and my family. She understands.
I feel liberated.

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Postscript: February 12, the next year.

I had a physical legacy from the gardener-for-hire experiment, my right elbow ached for many months. Tennis elbow, from using a shovel, doing the manual lawn edging. It finally stopped this week. I can’t wait to get back to gardening this year, in my own garden.

I talked to Hattie last night. She said she didn’t last the summer with the heiress. The green grind also took its toll on Jill, and she decided in the fall to enroll in nursing school. She’s able to make enough through waitressing a few nights a week to pay the bills. Waitressing—another service job, but one that is lucrative compared to creating beauty and toiling in the soil. I’m sorry that things weren’t anywhere near as rosy for Jill as I had imagined.

Hattie says she’ll start looking for some more crew members in a month or so. She says she thinks gardening must be a calling, as there are many who try it and don’t stay with it. Only she’s reached those other milestones of the true gardener, ones that may forever remain a mystery to me.

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Diary of a Garden Goddess – Part II

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This is a mostly-autobiographical story I wrote quite a few years ago, when my daughters were little and I tried my hand as a gardener-for-hire for part of the summer. It was first published in Greenwoman #4.

—Sandra Knauf

May 12

I’m planting annuals, salvia, petunias, lobelia, and dusty miller, in a long built-in planter at the top of a ten-foot-high brick wall on the side of a long driveway. It can only be reached by ladder. My fear of heights is kicked in again and I’m a little shaky but going about my business. I see a bee fly into a small hole in a brick below me. She leaves, then returns, and this time I move down to get a closer look. The bee’s carrying a perfectly round piece of leaf. I keep tabs on her and she comes out again, and flies away.

By the time she returns I’m very close, my face about a foot away from the hole’s entrance. I’m not worried about being stung as I know she’s working, and not concerned with me. As she positions herself for a landing, I get a micro-view. She’s holding the leaf with her thin, long for a bee, legs. The leafy green rug’s partially rolled up, so it’ll fit in the hole. I watch her as she hovers for a few more moments, wings beating rapidly. She’s about the same size as a honeybee, stout, hairy, and has a metallic blue cast. She completely ignores me, so intent is she on her work. It’s like a TV nature show, a micro-view of one infinitesimal part of nature, but a million times better. It’s the coolest thing I’ve witnessed in a garden yet.

Hattie tells me later I’ve seen a leafcutter bee. They cut precise circles and ovals out of leaves for their long, tunnel-like nests. The ovals line the bottom and sides. They lay one egg per cell, provision each with a mixture of nectar and pollen, and cap each cell with a circle of green.

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By Bob Peterson “from North Palm Beach, Florida, Planet Earth!” via Wikimedia Commons

“When you see rose leaves with these perfect holes in them, it’s the leafcutter,” Hattie says. “They cause some damage, but not enough to get worked up about. What’s really cool about it all, is that the first egg they lay, the oldest one in the far back of the tunnel, is the last to come out.”

I admire the leafcutter for her industriousness. Later I look it up on the Internet and find out the leafcutter, of the Megachile species, are natives. They’re important pollinators, not aggressive, have a mild sting (milder than honeybees and wasps) that’s only a threat when they are handled. Our Colorado entomological expert, Whitney Cranshaw, writes: “Leafcutter bees are solitary bees, meaning that they don’t produce colonies . . . Instead, individual female leafcutter bees do all the work of rearing.”

May 13

We’re on the east side of town, in an upper middle-class neighborhood. The house next door to our client’s is a tacky Southern cliché on “having arrived;” blindingly white fluted columns (I’m guessing metal) on a Georgian-style brick house sitting in front of an endless void of Kentucky green front lawn studded with white urns, fake flowers, and a Rococo, waterless fountain. All that’s missing is a big Cadillac.

Hattie refers to the client next door, where we’ll be working, by her first name, Annie. Annie’s a gynecologist. In the back garden is a patio and small lawn, the running ground for two amiable terriers, and a koi pond, covered with netting to protect the prize fishes from the occasional hungry blue heron. A huge rock garden surrounds it all. It’s built into the surrounding hill, a terraced stone wall topped by an upper garden of boulders and flowers and backed by a parched meadow, a perfect habitat for rattlesnakes.

The day is warm for this time of year, in the upper 80’s. We’ve been drinking a lot of water and I’m thankful Annie has welcomed us to use her bathroom facilities, so we won’t have to go at the nearby 7-Eleven. This is a different neighborhood, though; in the Broadmoor we always have to go to the convenience store.

I’m thinking of calling this the Hades garden. On top of the rock wall it’s hot and dry, and our weeding, started in different areas, has over the last two hours eventually brought us together. We squat at the top of the property, among the delphinium, yucca, lupine, and soon-to-be scorching stones. I’m the first to finish and when I stand up my head swims.

“Whoa, I just got a head rush.”

Hattie and Jill find this amusing.

“She just got a twirly,” says Jill.

“Congratulations,” says Hattie. “Having a twirly is one of the milestones in becoming a gardener.”

After some shrub pruning, we gather our tools to leave. Hattie points out a red-tailed hawk soaring above us in the cloudless sky, and I wonder if they’re a threat to the koi.

May 15

One of a hired gardener’s perks is being able to keep anything they have to weed out. I always defer to Hattie and Jill, but have still scored some coreopsis, pain-in-the-aster, Knautia macedonica (red pincushion flower; Hattie calls them “naughty-uh” because of their fecundity), hollyhocks, and even a tiny tree, an Arborvitae Hattie potted up personally and presented to me like a gift.

It makes me feel Robin Hoody; taking from the rich. Hattie nurtures orphans in her own garden, gives them to garden club members and to the church where we hold our monthly garden club meetings. Most of the time, though, she relocates them to another of her clients’ gardens as freebies. I’m astonished at her non-capitalistic commune with nature through gardening and don’t think I’d be so generous.

May 18

We meet at the greenhouse with the garden club members. Hattie’s multi-tasking, picking out annuals for both our club’s plant sale and for her clients. I’m thrilled because I’m indulging in my all time favorite gardening task, shopping. I buy several flats at wholesale prices, an orgy of annuals.

Hattie and Jill buy a truckload for their clients. Jill raves over some parti-colored striped petunias, hot pink and white, white and dark purple. I think they look circus-like, but keep my opinion to myself.

Later in the day, one of Hattie’s favorite clients, a nice sixty-something woman who lives in a Spanish-colonial style townhouse near the Garden of the Gods, goes ga-ga over the petunias Jill picked out.

Petunia 001 (2)

May 19

We spend a good part of the day at an out-of-town nursery that specializes in herbs. I’m in plant lust mode again, buying herbs and perennials at $1 each for a 2 ½” pot. There are seven different types of basil—Thai, Siam Queen, African Blue, globe, purple leafed, lemon, Genovese; five types of scented geraniums, and oh, so much more!

Hattie wears short shorts and a tank top, her hair up in a ponytail. She’s trying to even out, as she calls it, her “gardener’s tan,” a white-torsoed tan similar to the farmer’s version. Hattie’s legs are gorgeous, but her impressive breasts, I’m guessing “DD,” are slightly more on the side of Venus of Willendorf than Venus de Milo. Hattie doesn’t give a damn. I admire Hattie’s uninhibited, I-am-beautiful attitude, one that I can only achieve when under the influence of a significant amount of alcohol. Hattie declares herself a primitive, and once told me she would love to live an aboriginal life.

This evening Hattie calls to get my hours—she also pays on time. We bitch about the sprawl in Colorado Springs and she comments about the developers who run our city, “That’s their job. Sucking up beautiful places and spitting out shit.”

May 20

Hattie seems to genuinely adore most of her clients. This morning we weed and plant ‘Lemon gem’ marigolds at an elderly man’s modest ranch-style house. The home seems to be suburban-boring until I see a contemporary bronze fountain in the back pond. Hattie calls him “sweetie.” One of many.

I notice a fledgling robin hopping around the yard, crying to its mother, who delivers food to him. “He’ll be fine,” says Hattie, “unless a cat comes by.”

In the afternoon we’re met by the whole crew, plus two more, an older man and woman Hattie hired specifically for the occasion, to plant a truckload of gallon-sized stop-sign colored geraniums in the front of a huge home in a gated community.

We tour the conifer garden, which is expansive and sculptural with only a few flowers. Hattie calls the owner by her first name, Madeline. Madeline is whip-thin, and her pretty, somewhat waxy features remind me of a well-preserved orchid, a prom-queen from ages past. Hattie’s sure she’s had plastic surgery. Madeline’s not a gardener, she’s a designer, which means she does all the shopping and directing of where-to-put-what. Hattie tells me of some expensive cast-offs she’s received from her, purchases Madeline decided she “didn’t quite like” once she got home.

This is the first garden I’ve visited that bespoke major design savvy. Madeline’s garden is Oriental-influence-done-right. Every tree, shrub and flower is carefully placed, meticulously groomed and pampered. It’s the antithesis of how Hattie and I roll; we tend toward the “wild and wooly” as Hattie calls it. I prefer to think of it as gardening with Nature and letting Nature keep the upper hand.

We begin planting the geraniums and it isn’t long before I notice that Madeline’s holding an animated conversation with Hattie.

Madeline goes inside and Hattie walks over. She’s holding a plastic jar of Osmocote, the time-release fertilizer that comes in tiny beige balls, and some measuring spoons. “Have you guys been putting Osmocote in the planting holes?” she asks.

Cindy and I shake our heads. “I didn’t know we were supposed to,” I say.

“Well, that’s what Madeline wants. We’re going to have to take them all out and put a rounded teaspoonful in each hole.”

“Geez,” I say, “what is she, the Osmocote heiress?”

“No,” say Hattie. She names a famous electronics company and tells me Madeline’s the heiress of that.

May 22

We go to Mike’s today for the first time. Mike’s a she, the sixty-something widow of a military officer. She’s kind of brusque, but I like her. I’m in love with her garden. It’s on a hillside, has incredible diversity, and is xeric. I see a lot of plants that I haven’t seen in other gardens and covet a bronze Buddha nestled among poppies. Mike’s middle-aged son lives with her, as do two small, barking terriers. Hattie leaves Cindy and me there and we weed for three hours.

My friend Susan calls me that evening and asks if I’d like to do a gardening job for a friend of hers, an elderly lady who lives downtown. She has a Spanish colonial-style house, with a built-in planter running down the entire length that needs to be filled with annuals. Susan usually does it for her but she’s too busy this year. Would I call her?

I do; and make a date for my very first contract work!

May 23

This morning we’re spreading mulch. I get to the job at 9:30 A.M. and have to wait for Hattie and crew for twenty minutes. I’m irritated, thinking about how I could be home, working in my own garden instead of sitting here not getting paid. It’s supposed to be a 90-degree day. When Cindy, another of Hattie’s gardeners, pulls up, the owner, a rake thin, 40ish man comes out and greets us.

He leads us up the long driveway to the house. On the way, I spy a small weed tree sapling, a Siberian elm, notorious in these parts, among the border of shrubs and trees leading up the driveway. Reflexively, I reach down and pull it out.

The owner stops, turns to face me. He’s angry. “Why did you do that?”

“It was a weed tree.”

His manner is icy and he speaks slowly, as if instructing a child, “I would appreciate it if you didn’t remove anything without my permission.”

I seethe in silence, thinking, here I am, a master gardener with a B.A., getting chewed out by a homeowner for plucking out a goddamn weed.

It doesn’t get any better. The truck ’o mulch arrives as does Hattie, Jill, Cindy, and another woman whom I’ve never met—just as it starts getting nice and toasty. We have three wheelbarrows. The assembly line begins. We take turns standing on the truckload of mulch, pitchforking the barrows full, and pushing them up the long, steep driveway, around to the back of the house, through the trees, to dump and spread among a stand of white pines.

Back and up, back and up, over and over. It takes us two hours at a fast clip and I don’t know how many trips. It’s fun in a way because we kind of get into this competitive thing, where we’re hustling, passing each other like we’re in a relay, grinning—“hey, look at me, top this.”

I keep asking Cindy if she’s okay; she’s so red-faced she looks like she’s going to pass out, but Hattie says mine is the same. “Are you Irish?” she asks Cindy. Cindy doesn’t understand at first and thinks it may be a put-down, about liking to drink or something, but then Becky says it’s a Celtic trait–to get so obviously flushed when exerted. She’s of Celtic origin too. This may help to explain our shared pagan leanings.

Meanwhile, The Marquis de Sod, Supreme Protector of Weed Trees, is standing in the shade, watching four attractive, dressed-for-summer women haul wheelbarrow loads up and down his driveway, nearly collapsing from heat exhaustion. I sense he’s enjoying himself.

Wheel-Barrow-GraphicsFairy1

May 24

The job for the lady downtown worked out perfectly. I spent Saturday morning buying plants and soil amendment, and I finished it all in one afternoon. It was fun and I made a nice profit. It is so much better being the boss, no matter how perfect your boss may be.

We work in another big money garden today. There’s extensive construction going on with the house, adding a new wing to the thousands of square footage already in existence. More weeding, planting of annuals.

As Hattie and I drive homeward, we debate the relative differences of garden tours in her artsy-fartsy, celebrating-diversity neighborhood, where the gardeners are the sole workers and designers, and those in this neighborhood. Our garden club’s tour is coming up and we’re featuring gardens tended by the club’s professional gardeners. Most of the gardens will be in this exclusive section of town.

“The difference,” Hattie says, “is that here you get to see what shitloads of money can do for a garden.”

“Maybe we should call it the ‘Shitloads of Money’ tour.”

Hattie says that if we had a serious job we’d probably get into trouble together.

May 31

It’s another hot day. We’ve had the hottest May in the city’s recorded history, and it looks like June is going to be a scorcher too. Hattie says global warming is undeniable, those who work close to nature have been seeing changes for years. I get up early to water some plants in my own garden and to let the chickens out while everything’s dewey and cool and inside the family’s still sleeping. As I walk by a trellis, I see a bee’s been slumbering in a poppy and is now crawling out, damp and dew covered. I’ve heard that if bees are gathering nectar and pollen and it gets too late to return to the hive they’ll sleep in a flower. She’s unable to fly away until she’s dry. I feel blessed to witness this.

I work the morning alone in one of the gardens. Hattie’s sent me over to remove a big patch of King Alfred daffodils. She wants to save the bulbs and I’m to put them in trash bags for her.

The King Alfreds are deeply embedded in eighteen inches of muck. I can’t believe they are down so deep, that it is so frigging wet. Every time I put the shovel in to pry them out there is a tremendous sucking sound and the gigantic mound resists me, like they’re stuck in glue. It takes me over an hour to do a 5 x 8 foot patch, I’m soon wearing platform-mud heels, and I’m cursing under my breath. The water these places use, in a drought, is incredible, it’s a bog! When I tell Hattie about the experience, with the instruction “don’t ever send me on a job like that again,” she finds it hilarious.

The afternoon is spent at the Hades garden, where at one point, Hattie accidentally breaks off a daylily bud.

“Darn,” she says. Then she eats it and says, “yum.” I notice she’s wearing her wooden, dangling, peace-sign earrings.

Before we leave, Hattie dusts everything, not with fairy-dust, but with Feathermeal, the deer-keep away product. I have never smelled anything so god-awful in my life—it’s worse than shit, it’s worse than skunk, it’s worse than fish emulsion; it’s like the ground up, rotting entrails of the most vile sea/land/air creatures imaginable. I can’t see how she bears it.

Hattie says it’s made out of “chicken parts.”

On the way home she stops at a 7-Eleven to wash up and asks me if I need anything. When she comes back to the truck she’s got a paper container holding a corn dog, dripping in nacho cheese sauce product. “Sorry,” she says, “but I was starving.” I’m amazed at Hattie’s penchant for junk food.

June 4

Hattie sends me to Mike’s alone today. As Mike shows me where to work, I comment on a Salvia argentea, a huge, hairy-leafed, silver plant now at its rosette stage. Mike says, “Oh, Monty bought that.” She says it in a dismissive way that bothers me, the same tone she used when I commented on some interesting pavers that Monty bought. I think it’s cool her son’s into gardening, and feel sort of sorry for him, that his mom’s so prickly.

I weed for a couple of hours in the 90-plus degree heat, then take a thirty-minute lunch break for an iced cappuccino. I’m filthy when I walk in the coffee shop, covered in dirt and sweat, but I feel good, fully endorphin-ized by the sun and work.

Mike offers some orange hawkweed I’m digging out of her beds, and some other weed, I think it’s a malva. “The only name I know it by is “devil’s paintbrush,” she says of the hawkweed. “I brought it from back East, where it grows wild all over the place. They say it’s a terrible weed, but it’s easy to pull up, I don’t think it’s bad at all.” The plant has a low, mounded, hairy-leafed base with thin ten-inch stems that shoot up and are topped by a burnt orange flower cluster. It’s sculptural, interesting. Mike’s like the flower’s base, short, stocky, with short hair. She’s interesting too, but, like the weed, not easy to interpret.

She comes out to tell me when it’s time to leave, and seems concerned when I don’t pack up right away. I finish the area I’m working in, about ten more minutes, and I don’t mark it on my card, figuring it would be a nice way to show my gratitude for the pass-alongs. It’s been a lonely morning, in a stranger’s garden, but I’m excited about the free weeds.

My daughters, Zora, age nine, and Lily, six, have been out of school for almost a week. They hardly miss me at all. They’re having a grand time hanging out with Dad, and he with them. The house is about at the same stage of decay as it usually is, so I can’t claim things are going to hell.

Years ago, when we were first married, Andy stayed home for a year working on our first home, a Victorian-era house so dilapidated my mom said she wept after her first visit. I know Andy’d like to have the freedom I’ve enjoyed for the last decade, working at home. I’m surprised at my own feelings of antsy-ness and how I miss them all, like they’re having a party that I am not invited to.

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