It is an annual frustration for my mother that I can never manage to wear gardening gloves. Over the years, she has given me a bevy of beautiful ones - floral cotton, pink leather, long, short and medium length - but every spring, she is once again disappointed upon catching sight of a bit of mushroom compost still clinging to my hastily manicured nails. Most other months of the year, my hands are well tended but April is planting time and I simply love the feel of rich black dirt as I tuck another blue salvia or pink lantana into a well-dug flower bed. So it was that as I was driving to collect Mother for lunch the other day I found myself stealing quick, guilty glances at my hands at every stoplight, buffing my nails on my trouser legs in an ultimately futile attempt to render them pristine. I had been knee deep in my flower beds all week, and it showed.
Rounding the corner on a familiar stretch of road near her house, I slowed my little Fiat down to a crawl. I was soon to be passing a garden that never fails to treat the eye and I wanted to enjoy the sight at my leisure. Sitting off the road to the right, this little bit of arcadia has been tended for years by an elderly man. I couldn’t tell you his name but I see him every single time I pass by, sitting on the back of his equally elderly pick-up truck in the shadow of his handmade and flamboyantly frocked scarecrow, watching his garden grow. Morning, noon, dusk, or evening - he is always there, without a book or a radio, no dog, no cat. He sits there completely alone, painting a portrait of contentment and peace no artist could accurately duplicate. It is a sight that never fails to loosen my shoulders and restore a sense of calm to a stressful day. His garden is beautiful and I look forward, almost unconsciously, to passing by and seeing it. On this particular day however, I noticed something unusual and as I pulled up closer my heart sank when I saw the funeral wreath placed, most appropriately, right in the center of the recently planted garden. So. The gardener has left us.
As I sat there with my own gardener’s hands on the wheel, thinking how much I would miss the sight of the old man in his beloved patch of earth, I wondered who might have placed the wreath here in this spot. Perhaps someone just like me, for whom this garden was a little gift each time they drove past. I wondered if the old fellow knew all the strangers he had spoken to over these many years, not in words perhaps, but with all the eloquence found in the beauty and peace of nature herself. When I drove back past later that afternoon, the funeral wreath had been joined by bouquets of every size and shape and I smiled through damp eyes as I considered how our lives can communicate wonderful things to others, even without our knowledge. I wished the old gardener Godspeed.
That same evening I passed by my sitting room window and spied a lady walking past our cottage, holding the hand of her small son. I saw them stop in front of a little part of my garden that sits behind the stone mailbox, visible only to those walkers who take the sidewalk round. She was showing him the tiny sheep that stand in the ground cover in front of the fairy house. He laughed and nodded, pointing at the minuscule shepherd’s crook that leans by the door. They stood there for the longest time, smiling and talking, before continuing on with their walk.
No, we never know what we give to others through those things we love to do.
A well-cooked meal, a happy blog post.
A hand-written letter, a smile.
A flower garden.
Worth a short month of bad manicures, I’d say.