A Catalog Essay for Provincetown Art Association & Museum

Originally published in a catalog accompanying the 4th Annual Secret Garden Tour, 2001.

Deep in memory I find my four-year-old self holding the basket for my grandmother as she cuts flowers in her garden, and the perfume of roses returns to me.  Then, an older me, stretched out on the grass under the grape arbor sucking the sweet pulp from thick-skinned scuppernongs, my dog Buck dozing beside me. I grew up among thriving vegetable gardens, fruit trees, arbors and strawberry patches.  Still, I came late to my heritage as a gardener.  At least, the actual doing part.   For so long, I lived a nomadic life, following some job or lover or adventure up and down the east coast, across the country, or around the world.  It wasn't my house, my dirt, my country.  I would be moving on.  Sometimes I was lucky - the last renter or more likely, the original owner, long gone, left daffodils in the ground or a wild, hopeful forsythia at the edge of the walk.  Sometimes the dusty, patchy, eroded yard equaled the peeling house paint and my own despair.  Once, in Bangkok, bougainvillea - orange, fuchsia, yellow, pink - tangled and heavy on a leaning trellis, blazed outside my little cottage hidden deep in the city, and tiny, erotic orchids hung from the balcony.  Stalks of finger-sized bananas appeared in the palms, and we made banana cream pie. 


I'd say I was finally shamed into embracing my own gardening, and even then, went only as far as containers.  Into the crumbling duplex next door moved Stewart and Eric, up from New Orleans.  Stewart - Cajun-handsome, a working man's taut torso, a thick, puckered shrapnel scar from ear to breast - went about transforming their side of the worn out yard with the energy of a whirling dervish.  Sometimes I'd come home from work and the whole color scheme had changed since morning.  He'd dig a few fast holes, throw in some plant food, bury the roots in new dirt, and voila, I'd come home to the verdant foliage of springtime on the plantation.  Meanwhile the rains created swift-running rivulets down the slope of my bare side of the property.  Shamed, and seeing that it wasn't that difficult, I began to dig and plant.


I hauled in a few half-barrels and filled them with dwarf azaleas, coleus, daisies, snapdragons, anemones - whatever caught my fancy at the seed and feed store.  I hung petunias and nasturtiums and geraniums from the cornices.  I raked up three winters' worth of oak leaves and dumped them into the stretch of woods behind us.  I threw fertilizer on a burned out hydrangea.  Stewart cut back the honeysuckle deadwood along our shared driveway and propped up the Japanese wisteria latched onto the drainpipe. Next he dragged home a couple of castoff chairs, painted them bright white, and set them in the remaining bare spot on my side, a red piano stool between them.  We sat back in garden joy, surveying our handiwork. It was the beginning of a richly satisfying avocation.


I am still grateful to Stewart, wherever he is, for getting me going, even if I didn't actually sink anything into God's earth.  I soon learned that Stewart was doing his own brand of container gardening under special lights in the basement, but that's another story.





©2007 Rena Lindstrom All Rights Reserved