Mary’s Garden

Dianthus – Ideal Select White Fire

Snapdragon – Arrow Mix

Portulaca – Double

Viola – Sorbet Lemon Ice Blotch

Salvia – Sizzler Red

Now if you’re like me, you’d be asking yourself what are those? Maybe you knew. I didn’t. I had heard some of the words mentioned before. My father loved flowers. Yes these are flowers. But not any flowers… there were Mary’s flowers. The last ones she planted in one of her gardens. Together we built three above ground gardens back in 2013. I vividly remember going to every greenhouse in town to find each item. Green Thumb Nursery in Burlington, ND for the dirt. The bags were in three big bales – wet – with a strong odor.   A mix of dirt, earthworms and manure.  A very particular smell.  They barely fit in my car… The smell lingered… Then off to Lowe’s (a local place, not the big box store) for the seeds and baby plants. I’m sure there’s a better name for them than baby plants, but I think that fits them the best. It was a happy time.

The first year, she planted vegetables and herbs in all three of them. Rosemary. Basil. Oregano. Potatoes. Carrots. Cucumbers. Tomatoes. Lots of tomatoes. There was a lot of salsa made that year. The smell in the house reminded me of being a kid again when my Grandma Mary would be canning in the late summertime. Beans. Jellies. Jams. I’m still a little unsure of the differences between jelly and jam but I’m not sure it really matters…

Yes I know about google as people are quick to point out. That seems to be the answer for everything these days. Seems like no one knows anything without the assistance of the World Wide Web. But I digress…

Her gardens brought her pure happiness. A few rabbits or squirrels made their way in occasionally. Typically leaving the leftovers on the deck so we’d know they were there. Maybe that was their way of saying thanks.  Always well groomed, weed free and watered her gardens looked great.  As expected, they were successful and produced a lot of food.

On the deck in back and in the front of the house, every flat surface was filled with every kind of flower and plant you could think of. Usually two large planters on either side of the garage door. Flower pots everywhere! Cherry tomatoes and more herbs on the back deck. A bountiful and colorful time. Things like that make a house seem alive and become a home.

Late last year things changed inside the house.   Between us. That is for another time… not now. It’s too much. The indoor change reflected itself on the outside of the house this year. In March, she planted her garden. The routine was the same. Back to Lowe’s for flowers. Baby plants. This year she decided to plant two gardens and one flower garden in the final box. Carefully measured, placed and watered. New growth.

March turned to April.

April turned to May.

May turned to June.

By the first part of July, she was gone. Her garden remained. A reminder to me each time I’d venture out to the back yard to cut the grass. I did my best to keep up with the watering. I didn’t do as great with the weeding but I did try. Not only was the work hard, it was hard to be out there in her garden.

Just as expected, the plants grew. Vegetables were produced. There’s roles that are created. I do this. You do that. Things with the garden I didn’t do but I felt I had this obligation to keep it alive for as long as I could. Hold on to it. I gave the tomatoes away. The squirrels and the rabbits returned a few times. Leaving their thank you remnants on the now empty deck.

July turned to August.

September to October.

October brought with it frost. A few nights of below freezing temperatures. I knew what I had to do. I knew what it was time for. I couldn’t let it get snow covered. It was time to empty the gardens. I dreaded it. To try to make it easier, I thought I’d start with the planters in the front. They were beautiful all summer long and they were nice to see when I’d drive home each day.   I watched her empty the planters in years past and I saw she used a large garbage bag to help keep the mess to a minimum. So I spread out my bags on the ground, turned the planters upside down and…. Nothing. Those things were in there! Heavy too. I went to Menards to get some small gardening tools to try to help free these plants. I used some scissors to trim some of the branches back. Using my new tool, that I doubt I’ll ever use again, I slowly made progress. Soon, I felt like I had done enough work to try and lift them upside down on the garbage bag again. Success.

I’m sure she’d be happy to know that I found the large rocks she put in the bottom of each planter to keep them from blowing over. Or should I say that my foot found them. Each time. Their way of saying, we did our job. You’re welcome. I put both rocks next to the front steps of the landing leading to the front door.

A week went by. Two weeks. I knew they were out there still. I was running out of warm weather and I knew I had to bite the bullet and go to the back yard. It was cool out, but the sun was warm on my back. I took down the fences she’d placed around each one. I carefully rolled up the materials and posts and put them on an old plastic summer chair under the deck. Unsure really what to do with them. I started with the large tomato plants first. I was surprised how deep the roots grew. With each tug, I knew I was in for a fight. The garden, though dying, wasn’t going to give up without a fight.

I remembered the tool I had bought for the planters in the front and hurried myself around the house to the garage feeling smart for buying this tool I’d never use again. And then it began. One by one, I carefully took each one of them from the ground. I paused each time to think about the care that was used to put them in. I was surprised to discover that she had placed the plastic index card next to each one. The plants had grown up around them but they were still there. I pushed the dirt off of each one of them and placed them in my back pocket.

The first one went fairly quick. Much quicker now that I had my magic tool. I moved onto the second garden. Much like the first one, the tomato plants put up their fight but they were no match for my new metal tool. Before long, the first two gardens were emptied and into two large black garbage bags. There was one more to go. I didn’t want to do it. There was still flowers and buds on many of the plants but I knew what Mother Nature had instore. It had already been below freezing a few times by now and I knew it was time.

I took my time and dug up each one of them. I read the index cards of each one, amused at some of the names and unable to pronounce others. I pulled a blossom or stem from each plant and laid them on one of the stairs of the deck. There were so many. I’m not sure how long I was out there, but I felt every minute of it. I hated to think about all the beauty in this black fucking garbage bag. All the work and energy she put into this garden and never saw the results of. I felt like a thief. An executioner. I felt tired. My back was incredibly sore from being bent over all day long.

simple names won’t do…

It was a struggle to carry each bag around to the front of the house. I loaded them into the back of my car and drove off to the city lawn and yard waste collection site by the park. It smells terrible there. Everything wet and rotting. I walked up a little ramp by the large, freshly emptied dumpster, cut the bag open and felt terrible as each bag of hard work, color and life fell into a big pile on the bottom of the cold, steel dumpster. How could I just leave all of that there?

I went home and began to clean up the mess that I had made. But no amount of time could ever clean up the mess that I made inside of the house. I reached into my back pocket and pulled out twenty or thirty white index cards. I was surprised by the number of them. I took them in the house, placed them in the sink, squirted some hand soap because it was there on them and let them soak. Back outside, I carefully took each of the pretty blossoms into the garage where I had previously laid out some wax paper. I arranged all of them to give them their space, folded the flap of the wax paper over and placed a spare brick we had in the garage from when she put the back steps in.

I’m not sure how long to leave them under there. How long it’ll take for them to dry out. Maybe they’re ready now. But I’m not ready for them. I went into the house and drained the sink. Wiping each index card down with a paper towel, I was surprised to see how much dirt was still on them.  I guess somethings just don’t ever get cleaned.

I don’t know what I’m going to do with all of these index cards… these dried flowers… this metal tool…

The city is planning to buy my house as it’s now considered in a flood zone. No one else will live in these walls. Hang pictures up. Smell the house up with canning. Food. Candles. I know it’s just a building but it was a home that became a house again. It’s not alive anymore.

And no one will plant in Mary’s garden again.



Nov 1, 2016

8 thoughts on “Mary’s Garden

  1. Awesome, Johnny! This must be a very cathartic process! Glad to read your well-written pieces and also glad to be there for you through this.

    Liked by 1 person

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