Sunday afternoon, I gardened on Mother's Day. My sister is the mother now in my family now, a mother of three sons now in their twenties. I wasn't gardening for her. She celebrated with her children five hours drive away.
That's what is a plus or minus about gardening. It requires a definate plot of Earth. One can't send best wishes or good vibrations to a garden and expect flowers. One must put ones hand in the earth at a specific place on earth. I could fill her planters with blooms the next time I visit. Sister might like a pot or two of impatiens.
Aino and Stella, my grandmothers, gardened for pleasure and for the table. I would love to garden for Aino or Stella, and I can only now cultivate flowers for each woman on the small rectangle of ground where lives my memories of them. I remember their gardens. I remember my grandmothers and their gardens.
Stella loved to make hedges of the Rose of Sharon and took her morning coffee on her patio, surrounded by the blossoming tree in spring. Aino filled her front beds with tulips and daffodils. After her passing, I searched her garden loam for bulbs and reanimated all the bulbs I failed to find. For that spring, her work bore flowers before her doorstep a final time. We sold the house that summer and I put the bulbs into the dirt outside my patio and thought of her as the daffodils arose.
This Mothers Day, I had no good idea whose earth I was cultivating. I was hired by a woman online. She gave instructions quickly before returning to her family table where her guests were eating. Pull the weeds. Set the ferns from the nursery in deep holes, making an oval of ferns. Transplant the little hostas among the existing ferns, a surprise that had cropped up this spring. Plant the two flats of hostas along the border with the grass, adding the twelve new hostas to the six already well established.
She moved her son's bike away, a good bike for a young man in high school. I set to work.
Lifting a cold, I broke a spade with a tiny blade. It's handle broke off at the metal collar, and I saw the dry rot in the collar. I could explain that easily. The spade was bound to break and I could easily bolt on a fresh handle if asked. I had to make do with a short handled flat head shovel, better for shoveling coal than breaking earth. I cursed a moment.
Little difference seems to exist between a pogo stick and a shovel. One has to leap into a pogo stick or a shovel with two feet, an act of faith and balance. Luckily, the dark soil gave easily and digging ditches allowed me to get the rootballs deeply enough in the ground. I was surprised how quickly the work advanced. I turned up antique glass, old nails and worms. Robins started to patrol my turf, flying off to nest with a Mother's Day worm.
Most of the weeds were eradicated, pulled up by the roots, as I extracted the tiny hostas from the fern section, making one bit of digging do twice the good. The tiny hostas defied my effort to keep soil around the fine roots. I put them in the ground near the maple tree, hoping they could compete with the roots for water and nutrients. My employer's mother and father took their leave, stopping to marvel at my work halfway done from the stoop. "You'll be back", said the grandmother. "Thank you", I said. I went back to work.
A flat of those funny annuals with the extravagant tiny blooms remained. She asked for a ring of those around the oval of ferns. I popped those in with a trowel. I remembered watching a man put in annuals in a bed on the main street in Roosevelt Park near an old fashioned gas station transformed into a pub for burgers and hot wings. I chatted with him and he joked he wanted to hold up the bank near the pub, the Chase bank next door to the Station Pub. "But I won't. I'm on work release from jail, and I've planted flowers for Old Ole's Nursery for ten springs now". I imitated his easy hand with the trowel. Just open up the earth a few inches wide, pop in the root ball and let the ground spring back. Scrape in soil if any space remained. I felt disappointment when I ran out of annuals.
I called my employer, and she was agape as she looked over the thirty two or so newly planted perennials and annuals. I counted. I looked at the time on my cellphone. "How about two hours"? "Deal", she said. I could bill later through the application. "Wait a minute", she said and went back inside. Did she want more work I wondered? Or was she going inside for a tip? I was hoping for the Chicago handshake, a twenty dollar bill. I hadn't had my dinner yet that Mothers Day and I was thinking baked ham and scalloped potatoes.
She came back to the door. "I was going to send you over to a friend's house, but it's too late. Thanks for making my garden beautiful".
"You are welcome. Thank you for such a pleasant task". And I set out by foot for the Purple Line five minutes away on the far side of the aqueduct.
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