When Opposites Collide: Turmoil Among the Tulips

By Janice MacRae

OK, I admit it; I’d been harboring a secret desire to make that rite of passage – hosting an Open Garden – after which I would surely become a “real” gardener. One of the joys of belonging to a garden club is visiting other members’ gardens and returning home with creative juices boiling, lusting after a Himalayan Honeysuckle (Leycesteria Formosa), Elephant Ear (Colocasia) or other new beauty seen that day. So, I finally decided to take the plunge.

First requirement: write a description for the club’s monthly newsletter. How to describe your own garden without sounding too pompous or too humble? Should I mention horse paddocks or not? Yes, they’re all part of the “ambience.” What if all 300 members decide to come? Don’t be ridiculous; get a grip on yourself. I finally submit the description, realizing I’d spent more time on this than on deciding to become a parent.

The phone call comes; the Big Day will be June 29. Panic. I call back to ensure that informal was included in the description. This is a place where much is just allowed to happen as we fit in our real lives around full-time jobs. My husband, Joe, the equestrian and not the gardener, fusses that hordes of people will “poke at the horses.” I assure him that gardeners will be more interested in the manure pile.

The Open Garden schedule is printed, mine included. Now it’s like being a little pregnant – only one way out. I fluctuate between heady anticipation and debilitating self-doubt. I see the garden for what it is – not an informal cottage garden, but a jumble of loose ends dominated by weeds and a manure pile of mammoth proportions.

June 20: I’ve almost finished mowing lawn when elderly mower collapses. What if this happens next week? Joe’s fix-it skills are futile. Then son-in-law drops in, pooh-poohs my panic, fiddles with mysterious parts deep in lawnmower’s bowels. It starts! All is well.

June 22: I am filled with contentment. Butterflies flitter on buddleia; lavender around sundial is fragrant; greenhouse abundant with tomatoes, peppers, basil. I daydream of Big Day. Perhaps I’ll serve lavender cookies and lemonade under the grapevine (sigh). But first, be practical. Ask Joe to clean up his open hay/junk shed housing fourteen years’ accumulation of UHOs (unidentified homeless objects) – lumber, doors, railings – all lovingly saved from various fates. He says he’ll “take care of it.” The unaccustomed could mistake this for agreement; I push for formal commitment. He skirts the issue, reminding me that he built our Japanese-style arch with treasures from that shed for nary a dime (now forever dubbed the Gate of Not-Won-Dyme). OK, no use pursuing. Let fate unfold.

June 27: 6:00 pm: The unthinkable! Lawnmower’s up to old tricks! Call Joe in from barn. His fix-it expertise amounts to “Must be something you’re doing wrong.” Things are getting ugly. New mower needed pronto. We jump in car venting frustration on each other. He asks why I must do this tonight when I have “all day” tomorrow. I respond I’m not a last-minute type like him, also it could pour tomorrow. His comeback: “You worry about the stupidest things!” I comment on his Celtic ancestry (were they all short, dark and savage?) and cannot believe I have borne children by this man.

6:30 pm: At Home Depot. No time to waste, I demand the already-assembled floor model mower. Salesman hesitates, then wisely complies, possibly attributing my behavior to under-medication.

7:00 pm: Arrive home, pour gas into virgin tank. Joe says he’ll test it before I take over. I assume this will take place in a far corner – he’s heading that way – when, to my horror, he stops and, with uncharacteristic speed, pulls the cord. The “test” verifies the blade is too low as he shaves a large brown stripe across front lawn.

9:00 pm: Eat omelet in stony silence.

June 28: Check stripe, hoping for miraculous growth. Not. OK then, adjust attitude; these things build character. Last minute puttering, tidy up cranesbill geranium, put away garden tools. Best friend, Karleen, arrives for rehearsal, pretends to be garden club member on first-time visit. First stop: Joe’s creative lawn stripe. Karleen assures me that spot is shaded between 2 and 3 pm when most people will arrive, so won’t be noticeable. I want to believe her and start to relax in the warmth of good friendship. My friends will surely sustain me after the divorce.

June 29, Big Day: Bad part – rain. Good part – brown stripe blends into wet lawn. Bad part – Joe hasn’t cleaned out shed. Good part – he’s found a creative way to park truck and horse trailer in front so contents are barely visible.

1:00 pm: A pounding torrent. No visitors except three friends and one daughter with boyfriend. We huddle on covered front porch, Titanic’s deck, water everywhere, impending doom.

1:30 pm: Torrent eases. A few people arrive! Then more, sporting umbrellas, boots, undaunted by rain.

2:00 pm: Sunny breaks. People everywhere, in greenhouse, in pergola, under Gate-of-Not-Won-Dyme! Friends mingle with crowd, cleverly diverting attention from junk shed. Rain has bashed tall flowers but the visitors understand. Several ask about the burgundy velvet-textured clematis; I stupidly lost tag after planting and have no idea. Nice lady identifies my old rose as Felicité et Perpetué. Pot with blue hebe/evening scented stocks/red thyme/creeping Jenny is a big hit. And everyone wants to know about the red orache spinach. People asking me questions! I am high! Joe chats up some folks interested in the horses. Later, he mingles with crowd and cleverly handles a gardening question with such skill as to be believed.

4:30 pm: Friends relay nice comments overheard. We laugh; recap the day, the weeks leading up to this. I’ve done it! Now Joe takes credit, too, evidently his due for vicarious participation. Then I realize I do the same through his horse events. Hmmm…maybe it’s not so bad after all…when opposites collide.

About this writer

  • Janice MacRae is a freelance writer who lives near Victoria, BC, Canada. She finds daily life seldom perfect but always entertaining. As far as she knows, a good laugh never hurt anyone.

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