Kage Baker loved gardening. She loved the act and enterprise of creating a garden: of maintaining cultured earth for dedicated purposes. She said it made her feel like she was part of the life of the plants, a real participant in the photosynthetic process.
Whenever we had room, we dug gardens. Kage cut her teeth, as it were, on the many terraces and lawns of Mamma’s house, where there were granite walls hand-built by three generations of Baker women enclosing the fruit trees and roses and irises. Rose beds and long lines of corn – that was what Kage liked; every edge of the yard lined with penstemon and apples and snapdragons and sweet peas.
When we had no real garden space, she planted in pots. And Kage was not content with, say, a few geraniums and a hanging basket of petunias … oh, no, she could get nearly anything to grow in a pot. Bulbs, roses, trees, vegetables, herbs – even in our last home, a second-story apartment with a porch only 5 feet wide (but 15 feet long!) she lined the rail with pots and you approached our door through a pergola of blossom.
Kage’s irises are even now swelling with buds in their pots on Kimberly’s front lawn. So are her roses. Her Christmas cactus is now bigger than either of the cats, huge fleshy tentacles of ruby and emerald, as smooth and sensual as the limbs of some desert nymph.
Kimberly’s own garden has been undergoing a fallow period the last couple of years: it’s been somewhat neglected, mostly because she was trying to make sure I survived the transplant to Los Angeles and set some viable blossom of my own. College has had weird dystrophy effects on the nephew’s muscles; he apparently finds mowing the lawn life-threatening these days. And while I am willing, it really is life threatening for me. Because if I mow the lawn and then complain of angina, Kimberly is going to kill me …
Aside from the tidy circle of Tomato Henge (all of them in fruit!) the backyard has gone from fallow to feral. The grape vine stretches entirely across the driveway – not on an arbour, at knee level. Blinking eyes peer out of it like the end the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Half the lawn has disappeared under ivy, colonizing from its bastion on one wall of the garage. All the trees have become rooms, their branches forming the walls of bowers – and a superhighway for squirrels, raccoons, ravens and stray cats at roof height.
If Ithilien had looked like Kimberly’s backyard, Faramir’s Rangers would never have found Frodo, Sam or Gollum. And maybe not the Oliphaunts.
Only a few years ago, I’d have charged out there with weed whacker and chainsaw, and carved the yard into something closer to Kim’s heart’s desire. I’m pretty good with a weed whacker, or chain saw: I was Kage’s muscle in her gardening exploits, and learned how to do all sorts of energetic things. All that differentiated between me and some burly undergraduate-for-hire was The Amazon Problem – how to use large tools without damaging my secondary sexual characteristics. And like all women before me, I learned how to deal with that. Those. You know!
The problem now, though, is my damned heart. Much as I would love to lay about me out there with a machete and the chainsaw, I can’t. As the spring has advanced, the grass has risen like a tsunami and the wintergreen trees have shed massive boughs with every high wind. The grapevine is sending tentacular forays to test the defenses of our beloved tomatoes. The backyard is sneering at me!
So today … I hired an army. This has ever been the last resort of besieged ladies, and I am a student of history, after all. So next week, my mercenaries will arrive to top the obnoxious wintergreen trees, beat the grapes and the ivy back to their borders, and succour the lemon tree: which, in its advancing old age, needs some sort of Abishag-like support to hold its limbs up.Various volunteer trees from God only knows where will be deported.
They will bear away the booty of severed branches, and I will be left with a lawn I can mow without producing a rain of toothpicks.
Kage would approve. And when I plant the night-blooming jasmine, and the fuchsia magellenica and the Cox’s Orange Pippin apple tree; when I sitting out there in the summer twilight with a pitcher of margueritas and my Kindle … I know she’ll be smiling.