Smiling In The Garden

November 14, 2010

I looked out the window yesterday morning and saw several men in the Invisible Neighbor’s yard. Tony said she had already come to visit, to ask us about what we thought about the placement of her new bushes. I smiled, pulled on sweats and headed over there.

I’ve never really been in her yard before, so it was really odd to cross to her patio and knock on the back door. Familiar and strange all at the same time. She answered and came out, to tell me about her problems with JULIE and Comcast’s demands, forcing her to move the bushes up a little and mulch behind. It actually looks like that will be a better planting situation anyway, we decide. The bed runs right along the lines of my vegetable garden – maybe she’s really trying to hide the chicken wire panels and the compost  bin.

And I completely respect her for that.

She tells me the ex-husband wouldn’t have planted anything because of Comcast’s request, but she wants to enjoy her yard now. She has a unique tree in her backyard and her landscaper recommended taking it down and out. This tree means a great deal to her, she said, so it’s not going anywhere. This tree is from whirly seeds her kids brought home one day, then planted and nurtured  until it was big enough to plant outside. It is now about 12 feet high, thick and bushy, with branches and leaves that the neighborhood birds and squirrels just adore.

What a beautiful story – what a beautiful tie to her home. I love this kind of thing – and smile. Sometimes, a landscaper has to respect the history.

We chat as the men rip up the sod in even rows, digging out her new bed. They lay the sod on those spots where her volleyball poles just came down, and then haul the rest away. She is geeked about these new bushes and tells me about the red stems in winter, which she believes will be so pretty against the snow. She tells me that she bought out Alsip nursery and if they’d had more than nine, she would have bought those too. I offer her perennials in the spring, to make a colorful border and tell her I will lend her “Continuous Bloom” a wonderful book that lays out what blooms when so a gardener can always have color in the garden. I mention that I have made notes about which plants are Damn Rabbit resistant.

It begins to drizzle and we agree to talk later, when the bushes are planted. It rains for most of the afternoon, a gift from the garden gods for her new plantings.

I see her after the rain, with three women, showing off these shrubs in the backyard. We wave hello as I cross the yard to dump peelings in the compost bin. I smile at how happy she is about these bushes, sharing in her joy in a quiet way – I understand how she feels and am so pleased for her that she is feeling that same joy – that thrill of planting something and then watching it grow.

Before dinner, I rip out a stalk of brussel sprout. The root system hangs on and gives me quite the fight, but I prevail in the end. I sit on the patio, slicing off heads in the cold and dropping them into a colander. They are tender and delicate and crisp and I am so looking forward to having them for dinner. I rinse them, add chopped onion and salt and pepper and then sprinkle them with olive oil and put them in a baking dish. They go in the oven and then, at the last minute, I sprinkle fresh grated Romano over them, just to melt a little.

Oh wow. They are delicious – tasting as foreign to grocery store sprouts as Long John Silver’s fried filets taste to fish pulled out of the water and cooked within minutes. They are indeed delicate in taste and texture – simply yummy. I have three servings and Eliza has two. Dominic says, “Oh, that’s what the weird smell was.” I smile ruefully at that.

This vegetable garden, new to my repertoire, has entertained, challenged, surprised and nourished us all summer long. My neighbor’s transformation over mulch and shrubs and a birdfeeder has been nothing short of astonishing – and continues to astonish and delight both Tony and me.

It makes me smile – the garden is a magical place.

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