Jun 6, 2019

It’s been a long, lovely spring, the hills still gloriously green well into May. Now that many of my Facebook friends are showcasing their gardens online, I’m wanting to add my voice and photos to the mix—because I once had a garden too.

The images above are old Polaroids I scanned. In A Patchwork Memoir I wrote:

Because our apartment is so small, I thought it would be nice to add on another room—a colorful, fragrant outdoor annex. So I set out to transform our 6’ x 10’ deck—which stands one story above ground and looks out onto asphalt and the sagging roof of the carport—into a bower.

I started small, with a window box. When I went to East Bay Nursery to choose my first annuals, I was astonished at the prices. $2.50 for a pansy, petunia, or snapdragon? How could anything so beautiful be so cheap? From my annuals I learned that some of the best things in life are—almost—free.

No sooner had I planted my window box than we had a hard, driving rain. When I padded out the next morning, half-expecting my flowers to be battered to the ground, I found them jauntily upright, reminding me that “delicate” and “doughty” aren’t necessarily a contradiction in terms.

When I had enclosed the deck with flowering vines and bushes—bougainvillea, star jasmine, and a camellia—and added pots of lobelia, dahlias, and a pink breath of heaven, I decided there was only one thing missing, a small tree for the corner. So I scoured the East Bay nurseries—every last one—for the perfect arboreal roommate. “The canopy won’t be much larger than the root system,” I was advised by more than one nursery worker, “so if it’s in a standard 12”-diameter pot…” Pretty pitiful canopy, I thought. Then one day I happened upon the perfect “tree”—a wisteria pruned to a single trunk—in a narrow 5-gallon pot with a broad lush canopy and white starbursts of blooms. “Too bad that variety doesn’t have a fragrance,” I overheard an employee say in passing. Of course, the very first evening I went out to look at it, its white blossoms phantasmagoric in the darkness, it filled the air with perfume. From my irrepressible wisteria I learned, “Don’t believe everything you’re told, especially by the experts.”

The one thing I didn’t like about my new tree, though, was the rude, green-stained stake that supported it. The trunk looked strong enough to me, so I cut the cords that bound it to the stake—and it flopped right over, its canopy dragging on the ground, exhorting me, by its melodramatic collapse, to leave well enough alone!

So much for my lessons—I thought I’d graduated. Naïve gardener that I was, I imagined I could go on living in paradise. With serene complacency, I brunched among my flowers and wrote. Until the barbarian hordes invaded. Then I was battling aphids, spider mites, petunia bud worms, diabrotica beetles, carpenter bees, mildew, scale, and rust… For every flower, there was a predator. From my entire garden I learned, “There are no free brunches.”