Pretty Ugly

Some animal vomited all over the base of a plant in my garden. Not a pleasant sight. We ignored it for a couple of days, then it hardened, and Alf hacked at it with a spade and dumped it into a plastic bag and deposited it in the garbage, which goes out tomorrow.

I mention this because not everything is pretty in my garden.

Occasionally I come across the body of a dead bird on the ground. This usually happens when it bangs into a window. But I have learned to leave it alone because it could be just stunned into unconsciousness and eventually, after a few hours, it will come to and fly off. I can’t think of how many “dead” birds I’ve thrown away when they probably could have survived.

Have I mentioned that every pet we have ever owned, when it died, we buried in the garden? From Chico the ring-neck parrot, Eternity our Siamese, Baxter and Jones, our two parakeets, and Gwen our Springer Spaniel. Right now their burial plots are springing up flowers. Their bones have fertilized the soil and given new life to lovely plants that house hummingbirds and butterflies.

“The circle of life,” Alf said.

“I wonder what the vomit could have produced,” I said.

“Maggots,” Alf said.

“Don’t they make good fertilizer?”

“Not if you want creepy crawlies underfoot.”

Calvin says, “Don’t you bury me in the back when my time comes. I want to be let free in wild grasses to frolic all day long.” 

 

In the Heat

Word has spread and Monarchs are coming to enjoy my butterfly bush. It’s a joy to see these orange nymphs flitting about in the garden. They tend to appear in the afternoon, when the day is the hottest. They’re joined by the hummers, the chattering squirrels and the bees. It’s really quite noisy in the stillness of the warmth.

I’m contemplating installing a gurgling fountain where the birds can bathe, the cats lap up water and the squirrels can have a splash party. I’d put out my favorite rocking chair and be entertained for hours. A friend of mine loves to sit out in her garden, among the flowers, reading her books, with one eye to the wildlife around her. She’s done that in every place she lived, including Beijing. Now she’s in a retirement community and only has a balcony, but that hasn’t stopped her. Her little spot is overflowing with potted flowers and greens, and she’s out there every day with her coffee and books. I’m learning to follow in her footsteps.

“Your footsteps keep you indoors,” Alf said.

“I’m working, that’s why,” I said.

“You’ve heard the word laptop?”

“Of course, silly.”

“That’s what it’s for, your lap, anywhere,” he said.

“My lap gets too hot, then I run out of battery, and I lose focus because the entertainment around me pulls me away,” I said.

“Excuses. Make it work, find the right spot, under the lemon tree, by the garden angel, next to the maple,” he said.

“What if a lemon lands on my keyboard?”

“Make a lemon tart,” Alf said.

Calvin says, “You forgot to include my panting in the heat as part of the entertainment.”

 

 

 

Survival Plans

I dug it up. It had been struggling to survive for years. I re-planted it in a pot that was hanging from the apricot tree, except there is no apricot tree, just the trunk, which now holds several potted plants. Alf and I killed the apricot tree by pruning it too much. What did we know? We’re not farmers. The transplanted plant should be worried. We don’t know what we’re doing.

Our garden plants grit their teeth behind our backs. They hold whispered meetings at midnight, while we sleep, planning how to survive in spite of what we do to them.

The oleanders are the senior members, well established after many battles, and are now too big to die. They’ve gone through the worst of it, from neglect to over-watering. They now give advice to the youngest inhabitants. “Keep your water reserves if you want to live,” they say.

The roses are faring a bit better because they’re pretty. Beauty wins out every time. It’s what saves them from death. Nobody likes to see a withered bush, it speaks ill of the owners.

The lavender and rosemary have the best chance of survival. They’ve been bred to withstand heat and drought.

The jade, the newcomers, beat their chests. “We’ll outlive you all,” they say with a laugh.

The citrus trees roll their eyes. “We’ve been here 80 years, and we’ve seen it all. If it wasn’t for the rainy season we’d be gone, and so will you, so don’t be cocky because that will be your demise,” they say.

Calvin says, “You’ve murdered a nursery-full since I’ve been here. I’d have a warrant for your arrest.”

 

Nature Speaks

What is the answer to all the evening stars in their places, shining bright. Who keeps them there?

And the flowers, does anyone tell them there’s a quarantine on, and they’re not supposed to burst forth from their places?

The cats don’t care, neither do the dogs.

The ivy continues to crawl up the fence. The rosemary and lavender give out their fragrance. The climbing roses and the fruit trees grow and shine their glory.

Here’s a recipe for contentment. To do what you’re made for, in good times and bad times.  Both give equal opportunities to stand out and be beautiful.

Calvin says, “Now I know you’ve lost it. You need some people time.”

 

 

 

A Pitiful Reality

Coming back from my two-mile walk in my backyard, not that my backyard is two miles long, it’s not, but I walk back and forth for two miles, I realized what a pitiful sight I am. If anyone were to see me in my sweatpants, T-shirt, no make-up – what for the birds? – they’d say I needed a respite in the local psyche ward. I have forgotten to dress normally, bathe daily, and wear something colorful. Is this what retirement looks like? No, this is what being cooped up at home without the possibility of parole looks like during the pandemic. When restrictions get lifted I will need training in how to be a human being again and a functioning member of society. I will have to wear a bra again! That thought revolts me. I will need to be pleasing, kind and thoughtful to others. I’ve had a vacation from that. And eight hours in an office again when I’ve enjoyed squirrels, birds and flowers as my office, I can’t bear the thought.

Not everything about the lockdown has been nasty as the media wants you to believe. It’s been peaceful. The air has never been fresher. The quiet of the streets allows me to hear the honking of overhead geese, the barking of dogs on a walk, the clamoring of the garbage truck on its pickup runs. We’re making more garbage than ever before. We’re buying and cooking and eating and throwing away. Just today I saw my neighbor throw out his prized flamingo.

Calvin says, “You’re nuts alright. Flamingo? That was a pink elephant.”

 

 

Resuscitation

I spent some quality time in my garden this weekend, soaking up the sun and appreciating my flowers. That’s when I noticed it.

“I haven’t been watering it,” Alf said.

“Why not?” I asked.

“It didn’t appeal to me.”

“But we paid money for it.”

“I know.” 

“You know? You’re the one who makes sure we use the things we buy.”

“It doesn’t make sense. I neglected it. It wasn’t speaking to me.”

Since then, I have been watering the plant and sure enough green leaves are popping up all over it.

“That’s looking pretty good,” Alf said.

“What some water will do,” I said.

I began to look for more neglected plants in the garden. I saw another one. A low creepy crawler that was barely breathing. I began watering it too. It has sprouted purple flowers.

“I’m going to call you PP,” Alf said.

“PP?”

“Plant Paramedic.”

Calvin says, “There’s a third plant that’s gone brown. I peed once too many times on it. It didn’t resonate with me either.” 

 

Shared Greenery

“It’s time to cut the lawn,” our neighbor told us today. We agreed it was looking a bit furry, but we thought it gave the front of the house some character. Plus it looked like we do, two months without a haircut.

“Let’s wait til May,” Alf said.

“By then you’ll need to hack your way to the front door,” he said.

“Come on, it won’t be that bad,” Alf said.

“Yes it will, it’s all the watering you do every morning that’s causing the jungle to spring up.”

Truth is our neighbor keeps his lawn as short as a barber’s haircut and ours was irritating him.

So after a lot of back and forth, Alf allowed the mower to come across our driveway and into the front lawn.

Our neighbor did a fine job of hair cutting. The equipment made all the right rumbling noies and the blower whined throughout the neighborhood. It was done in less than fifteen minutes.

He was satisfied with the results and took his mower back to his house, went inside and we won’t see him for another month.

We guess this is his way of coping with the lockdown. Every leaf has to be a certain height and no higher. He turns on a fountain every day with a yellow rubber ducky bobbing on the surface. The basket of flowers at his front door are artificial and look grey around the edges. Everything else is real, including a rhododendron tree that explodes with purple flowers every spring.

Three fig trees line up tall between his property and ours. He doesn’t like figs so we get the harvest. I love them. We in turn give him oranges and lemons from our trees. A polite exchange.

Calvin says, “How can he not like figs? I like figs, and that’s crazy because beagles hate fruit.”

Coexistence

The orange tree in our backyard is bursting with blossoms. As I walk by it, I hear the happy sounds of our humming bees wiggle in and out of the blossoms. The tree is alive with activity and noise. What surprises me are the hummingbirds. They too are flitting in and out of the blossoms, drinking in their elixir. They are intoxicated. They stop frequently to rest, look around, chirp with the others, and then resume their feeding. They don’t seem to skirt the bees. Nor are they cautious around them. Both bees and hummers co-exist in one tree.

Now the squirrels are another story. Those nasty critters are pulling off our oranges, taking a big bite out of them, and throwing the rest of the fruit on the ground. I notice they don’t touch the lemons or the grapefruit. They like sweet. They have good taste, but in an indulgent and thoughtless way.

Yesterday morning I noticed a tight bud on a geranium bush, and by late afternoon it had flowered. Had I know it would happen this fast, I would have pulled up a chair to watch it, like a time-lapse video.

I’m waiting for the blue jays to pop in anytime soon. They are nuisances. They wait on the roof top for bee activity and then swoop in and grab one in their beaks and swallow it whole. I wonder if the bee, in its last moments of life, stings the bird’s gullet all the way down to its stomach.

Calvin says, “Beware of those bees. I’ve had a few land on my nose and it’s terrifying. I shake them off and then run inside the house and howl.”

 

Add a Heart

I hate it when a warehouse store moves its shelves around and I can’t find the items I typically buy. It’s torture. It adds extra minutes to my shopping. I walk my 10,000 steps just trying to find the peanut butter. They should pay me for confusing me and making me go around in circles.

Being the day before Valentine’s Day, vendors were parked at every aisle handing out chocolates, cheese, and ravioli bites. Perfect ingredients for your loved one. How come there’s never any samples of bagels, lox and cream cheese? Or champagne and lobster tails for that special someone? But there’s always the man with the high-powered blender ready to make you a green smoothie.

I’ve noticed the book aisle is now shoved by the back wall where you can’t find it. I guess books are not money makers even if you are James Patterson and Clive Custler.

The clerk at the check-out told me a story of a family with a six-year old daughter. It was the child’s birthday and nobody showed up to celebrate it. So the family scooped her up and brought her to the store for pizza and cake. I wondered how many miles they had to walk to find those items. They were moved to make way for buckets of roses and heart-shaped cookies.

Calvin says, “The stuff you fret over. What’s wrong with a bone and a snuggle?”

 

More Than Dirt

Alf and I got tired of the lunar look of our backyard, with its deep ruts and crevices and dead everything. We used to have steady visitors of cats and squirrels and noisy ravens, but lately even the butterflies do fly-overs instead of landing. So with the help of a longtime neighbor, who builds commercial nurseries for plants, we are working on a new garden together. photo (47)

I quickly sketched my idea of an English garden with pathways and gravel and flowering plants. Something that Alice in Wonderland would choose as she read and conversed with the Cheshire Cat.

I didn’t want a lawn. I was convinced of the versatility and beauty of drought-tolerant plants. I’m a survivor of too many droughts and didn’t want the demands of water guzzling green things anymore. They remind me of crying infants when they’re hungry. I don’t have time to invest in pruning, trimming and talking to them either. I hardly have time to do this with Alf.

I’ve been learning a few things about myself through this. I’m impatient. I thought the re-design would take a month. In my mind it was a simple idea without a lot of fuss. Dig up the dead lawn, and then stick some Woolly Bluecurls, Tree Anemones, and Sticky Monkey-flowers in there, and let them duke it out. I was wrong. I have no understanding of soil, bricks and greenery and what it takes to put all three together in an artful way. It’s taken all summer.

Another problem arose. My neighbor’s taste and mine are not in sync. It’s an act of high level diplomacy every time we disagree. We compromise. We change things. We discard stuff. Always smiling. It’s like a marriage. I’m sure he goes home muttering under his breath. But through it all, a glorious garden is coming into view, and the best part is we haven’t filed divorce papers. That’s the important thing. It may not be ready for the fall, and by winter it will be too cold for tea parties, but then there’s next year. The plants will be settled and feeling good about their new home. And maybe the squirrels and ravens will return chattering and cawing their approval.

When the project is complete, I expect my neighbor to be over many times, showcasing me as his still-friend and my garden to future drought-tolerant fans.

Calvin says, “I’m not so stinking happy. You took away my favorite pee spots.” beagle