I am a gardener. On a fluke probably instigated by Tante Jeanne, our family’s superior homemaker, whose vegetable garden next door could have been featured in a national magazine. She could do anything, whip up a whole outfit, hat, gloves, 3 piece suit, she could make soap, detergent; the upkeep of her house was on a schedule and planned in advance. The woman was a pro.
“It could work; I’ll try that!” I thought looking over at Tante Jeanne’s oeuvre. Thus my entry into the gardening world. That little garden, perhaps 5 X 8 feet, which I had to wrestle from the field where it resided, was a small jungle. I don’t remember what else I grew, but the flowers delighted me. Cosmos, white, pink, fuschia, on slim stalks that bent gracefully to the winds, very delicate, their leaves are pinnates that look like individual tassels hanging from branches.
For a number of years I had good sized vegetable gardens, nothing decorative, a simple square divided by two intercepting passageways, creating 4 sections, with a row of Cosmos.
When my idyllic life in the country ended I was forced to improvise. My first garden in NYC was on the fire escape of my apartment on the Lower East Side, the Chinese section. A former tenant had left behind 2 director chairs and a wind chime on the fire escape. I painted the chairs black and made new back and seat covers, added one flowering, hanging plant, a few house plants, and a bird feeder. I spent many a Sunday morning on the escape with copy of the Sunday New York Times and coffee while the Asian guys below me were hauling produce on hand trucks from the warehouse to a small army of chefs from New York and New Jersey who pulled up in expensive cars to pick up their orders.
Back and forth, back and forth, the Chinese and Mexican boys ran from expectant cars to warehouse, and back again with the Times in their authoritative voice pronouncing their imperious views of All The News That’s Fit To Print.
When the money started kicking in, I moved to the Upper East Side and had a sizeable backyard, 90 percent of which had been covered in concrete. I had to climb through a window to get to it, and the place had bad vibes. My contribution to that garden was to box in the 10% soil section with a border of bricks. I grew Swiss chard and a hosta plant, among other things.
Then came Harlem and my all-time favorite garden, on Manhattan Avenue. I had the ground floor garden apartment of a brownstone building. Our block was composed mostly of brownstones, the gardens within the block were closed with no entry possible from the street. This being Manhattan every square inch of ground is accounted for and the yards are all fenced. At the back of my rectangular garden I created a built-up section, bricks separating in from the path that encircled the garden at its outside walls. I placed a maple tree at each end, the hosta by one and a sharp pink rhododendron by the other.
One entered the garden through my bedroom door. I installed a gazebo, adding a futon, and mosquito netting and I slept out in the yard from May till November. The soil section took up ¾ of the garden. I also hung planters from the tops of two of the walls with flowers. Solid wood garden furniture scattered about for which I made seat cushions. I spent a few years in Housing Court fighting to keep that apartment.
What happens now? I’ve bought a new gazebo, brought my bricks and cinder blocks, and those orange planter boxes from NYC, the wood outdoor furniture, so it starts again. My new yard has 3 huge old pine trees, their crenellated bark facing my bedroom window, the new meditating center. The piece of turf encircled by the trees calls out for something dramatic . . . then . . .
The favorite essay this month has been, Baduisms