Ever since she saw my mother’s gardens the year before, Valerie was determined that she would have one too.
In the front of her house, between the front steps and the garage, there were remnants of previous gardens from years past, and Valerie wanted to spruce it up and plant some flowers of her own. So, one Saturday morning, about the middle of June, we got out some garden tools from her garage and we took a stab at loosening the soil and pulling the weeds out. The hard clay soil proved to be difficult, and there seemed to be so many weeds, that we would never be finished.
After several attempts to find an easy way to do the work, turning the soil with the garden fork was the easiest. I would push it into the hard soil, pry up a large clump, and then turn it and stab it and crush it with the fork. As I did this, Valerie would grab the loosened weeds, shake off the dirt, and throw them into a garbage can.
Surprisingly, it didn’t take very long to do this, and the area looked a lot neater after I pounded the smaller clumps and combed it with a garden rake.
The finished area was about twenty feet wide, and about four feet deep.
Mr. Crane was interested in what we were doing, but he just watched us and never gave us any advice or criticism, so we figured that we were doing everything right. Enid, on the other hand, couldn’t keep her mouth shut:
“Don’t puncture the gas line with that fork!” and, “I never had any luck with a garden there, so what makes you kids think that you will?” and, “You didn’t use any peat moss! You need peat moss!”
A pessimist through and through, she was.
This was the first time I had ever done this, outside of my parents’ yard, and Mom was always there to tell me exactly what she wanted and how she wanted it. This was Valerie’s first time making a garden, however, and the most experience she ever had planting anything was putting a lima bean in a cup filled with potting soil in grammar school, so she could watch it grow over the coming weeks. I’m sure she did this, because all of my brothers and sisters and I did it too.
Valerie emerged from her garage with a few trays of flowers: marigolds, red petunias, and something else.
“I got these from the grocery store,” she said.
“The grocery store? Nice,” I said.
“I really wanted to plant some tulips, but I couldn’t find any. Maybe we can buy some seeds later.”
“There’s no such thing,” I told her. “Tulips grow from bulbs.”
“A bulb. A little thing that looks like an onion or a little round root.” And, of course, I only learned that from growing up and working with my mom.
“Can we get some bulbs then?” she asked.
“Not now. You have to buy them and plant them in the fall, and then you’ll get tulips in the spring.”
“Oh. So I can’t have tulips?”
“No. Not until next year, and only if you plant bulbs.”
“Shoot!” she said. “I love tulips. They’re my favorite.”
“Just get some bulbs in the fall,” I said.
“How about Easter lilies then? Can I get some of those white Easter lilies?”
“Easter lilies? I don’t know,” I answered. “I think so. I know you can get them at Easter time, but I don’t know if they’re available now.”
“Or do they grow from a bulb too?”
“They grow from a bulb, but I think you can buy them now, and already in a pot,” I said. “But I’m not sure. We’ll have to see.”
“Easter lilies are my favorite,” she said. “First Easter lilies, then tulips.”
We went right to work planting the flowers that she had. Wearing shorts, she kneeled on a cushion from an old patio chair. I kneeled on the concrete sidewalk. I showed her how to do it, make a little hole with her garden trowel and stick a plant in it and then cover the roots with the soil. Valerie got the hang of it quickly and planted a flower about every twelve inches or so; a row of red petunias along the front, then a row of marigolds, and then the other ones in the last row. Halfway through we realized that she should have started in the rear first and worked her way to the front.
Finished, we hooked up the hose and she watered everything.
“There,” she said, proud of herself. “Now all we have to do is keep it watered.”
“It looks great, Sweetie,” I said. “Good job.”
The garden looked a little sparse, however, but I was confident that it would look better once the flowers grew bigger.
“Now let’s go do your house,” she said.
“What? My house?”
“Yeah. You can have a garden in the front of your house too.”
The yard of my new house already had a few Tulips, some bushes and a couple of shrubs, but I never thought about planting a garden. Besides, I was still busy with the inside: painting, hanging drapes and window shades, cleaning, and I didn’t really have time to help Valerie plant her garden, much less, my own!
But Valerie convinced me that her garden took about two hours to plant, and mine would probably be even quicker since we now knew what we were doing.
So, we went to my house.
I got the garden tools from the garage, the ones that Mr. And Mrs. Bell owned. Using a garden fork, I turned the soil like I did at Valerie’s house, and mashed down the clumps as Valerie yanked and separated the weeds. And before we knew it, I had a small patch of land ready for a flower garden. Like Valerie’s, my garden was between the front steps and the garage, but was only about fifteen feet wide, about five feet shorter than hers. On the other side of the steps was a larger garden, but was already planted with rose bushes and some other kind of shrub.
“I don’t have any plants,” I informed her. “C’mon. Let’s go to the flower store.”
We hopped in my car and went to my mom’s favorite nursery. The place was well known around town, and they treated my mom like royalty there. I hate to think how much money and time she spent at that place, probably enough to open a nursery of her own.
“Good afternoon. Can I help you?” asked the lady.
“Hi. Yeah. We’re planting a small garden and we need some flowers.”
Then she pelted me with questions.
“What’s the soil like?
“Clay, I think.”
“Is it acidic?”
“I don’t know.”
“Is it shaded or full sun?”
“Mostly sunny, partially shaded,” I said, as my house faced the northwest, and the eaves partially hung over the soon-to-be garden.
But Valerie had already sauntered her way over to the garden flowers and was already picking out the ones that she liked the best, which all happened to be pink.
As I walked toward her, the lady followed, suggesting exotic and expensive flowers and plants that I had never even heard of. All I really wanted was something that I could just water now and then, and let nature do the rest.
Ignoring Valerie’s suggestions of pink petunias, pink geraniums, and pink impatiens, I purchased several flats of red salvia and yellow marigolds, a little more than what Valerie had, and the lady talked me into buying a garden trowel of my own, because I didn’t remember seeing one in the garage.
When we got back to my house, I did all the planting. Using my new garden trowel as a guide, I planted everything a little closer together, six and eight inches apart, and my rows were an even distance from the house. I planted two rows of yellow marigolds in the front, and two rows of the taller salvia behind them. And when I was finished, it looked great.
“I’m jealous,” Valerie said. “Your flowers are bigger and better than mine.”
I looked at her and I knew what was coming next.
“Biff, can we go back to the nursery?”
By about 8:00 that evening, we had planted two gardens a total of three times. Along with the other flowers she had planted, Valerie’s garden was now had pink petunias, red salvia, snapdragons, and one white Easter lily, and her garden was filled from edge to edge.
The inside of my house was still a work in progress. Maybe I could get something done on Sunday!
© 2011 Biff Remington, Model Citizen - 7/6/11