Rhonda’s Garden

The year I didn’t have a garden—but did.

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ILLUSTRATIONS BY CATHERINE STRAUS

The tenth November in my kitchen garden found me cleaning it up just like I had the nine before. Saving the few green tomatoes that still hung from the now-blighted vines. Picking the last chilies that dangled like colored lanterns among the debris. Raking up the coin-shaped leaves of the neighboring pear tree.

Once again, I had that satisfying sense of rightness that comes when the beds are nothing but blank brown plots inside a picket fence. I knew that picket fence well. It was built as a frame to contain my gardening ambitions. As the wife of a corporate nomad, a kitchen garden was all I dared risk. Repeated moves had made me shy of planting bulbs I would never see bloom or trees that would fruit for strangers. Growing a few vegetables, some herbs, and cut flowers inside a fence was safe.

Usually.

And that’s when it happened. Across the table, I saw the look on my husband’s face.

Yet as we stayed in this community year after year, I was eventually lulled and jumped my boundaries like a rampant rhizome. I put in English roses, and followed that with foxgloves. Before I realized it, I was collaborating with a young landscaper to reclaim the front yard. Then I started planting for wildlife value and four-season interest. Koi pond? Why not?

I could blame it on my Master Gardener program. My gardening calendar now went all year: fall classes, winter planning, spring events, and summer hotline duty. In the program, I had found my tribe—200 like-minded friends who liked to play in the dirt.

As my knowledge grew, so did my garden. So that November, I mailordered an entire lot of pastel lisianthus and petite dahlias for my cut-flower bed without the slightest twinge of guilt. Heck, I might as well throw in some of that Blue Wonder scaveola for the rock garden while I was at it!

My husband works long hours and travels as well. But we have always found time for breakfast out on weekends. And that’s when it happened. Across the table, I saw the look on my husband’s face. It had been ten years since the last time he had broached this topic, during another breakfast outing. I knew that look.

A new job. Another move.

I quickly realized that we had forgotten how to move. The thought didn’t provoke the old thrill of an adventure, a challenge, a change. It was just heartbreaking.

I spent those late winter weeks preparing the house for the market—repairs and cleaning, painting and primping. I staged the house, but I couldn’t fake a garden. I couldn’t even pull weeds without crying.

And then, as if to rub salt in my wounds, boxes marked “Live Plants” started to arrive on the doorstep. I had completely forgot-ten my mailorder shopping spree. Rather then plant them for an unknown buyer, I took them to the extension office for the Master Gardeners’ demo garden. At least that way they would go to a good home.

In spring, I said goodbye to my friends and to my garden. I took in the unforgettable fragrance of my Zepherine Drouhin climbing rose one last time, and we drove away.

Suddenly we got a phone call: A sewer pipe had broken in our new home. We would have to remodel—immediately. There would be no gardening that summer. In-stead I spent it cajoling carpenters and soothing tearful teenagers who missed their friends.

Sometime in late summer, I received an email from the Master Gardener group back home, telling me how great my garden was growing. What garden? What were they talking about? I was too busy dealing with drywall installers to ponder the question.

Then I got another email from the horticulture agent, telling me that my flowers were performing better than the ones in the trial garden. I was confused. I hadn’t touched a trowel for many months. My fingernails were—uncharacteristically—very clean.

The email had an attachment. I opened it and up popped a photo from the demo garden: a flowerbed with a profusion of pink, blue, and yellow blossoms. There was a sign in front of the flowerbed. It read, “Rhonda’s Garden.”

I had had a garden after all.


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