And then there’s me.
“What am I?” I ask, contemplating the old sandbox, a real octagonal wooden one. The boys no longer play in it. I began contemplating it after a friend exclaimed, “Oh, don’t get rid of it, make it into a garden bed!”
I saw it then. Towering hibiscus and roses blooming. Or maybe it would be tomatoes and string beans.
Then I thought of the containers I tried last year. I did manage two tomatoes, however small and pale. And the boys were thrilled by three fairly robust string beans – one summer day, we sat together nibbling our single beans like squirrels can sit and savor individual nuts.
So then I just didn’t see it. I just saw it for what it was, a nasty, old, dirty sandbox.
I go through this self-examination every spring, when I watch people flock to the plant nurseries and fill wagons with flats of marigolds, impatiens, basil or who-knows whats. These gardeners all know exactly what they want, who they are, making important choices with little waffling. When we first moved here ten years ago, I thought I was one of them. I even carved out a large rectangle of lawn for a flower garden. What blooms I managed were scraggly and quickly fizzled by August. The next season, we filled it in so my husband had more grass to mow.
Since then, I rarely ever leave a nursery with a wagon of flats. It’s usually a couple of small pots, as I’m never quite sure what will flourish well where, often mistaking shady spots for sunny ones. This year, I bought a small begonia for the middle of the deck table. It has already perished:
Anyway, as I was saying, there are the gardeners: like my friend around the corner. As you meander her winding paths, her garden appears natural and wild, as she herself does, the type who appears sensual rather than unkempt with hair pulled back loosely. In essence, however, her garden has been patiently executed. She used to actually work in a plant nursery, so she knows her perennials and annuals well. She might be a walking flower encyclopedia, and in the spring will offer a plant sale of new shoots for you to start your own wild flower garden (I’ve never bought any).
Then there are the gardeners: my husband’s cousin. We were at her house over the weekend for a party. This is someone who has confessed to organizing her underwear by color. Her cream carpet is devoid of a single speck of dirt. Just as in her garden, you will not spot a single weed – she will pluck up any delicate shoots before they’ve barely reared their tiny green heads. Her rose beds are impeccable, the blooms so lush and enormous, you want to take a bite out of them.
She too has winding garden paths, but the perennial bushes are carefully manicured like her own hair and nails. There is a lion fountain with water spouting from its mouth (“is he throwing up?” my son asked). There is a waterfall with a brilliant orange goldfish. Actual oil lanterns dangle from the trees, and there are the various lawn ornaments, a St. Francis, silver reflective balls, and wind chimes.
I spent a lot of time walking around this garden, marveling at its perfection, though wondering whether I actually envied it. I think I prefer my friend’s wilder garden; at least the most frustrating area of our yard, our back sunless mossy corner, can mimic it – that is, if you stand at a distance, where you can’t see that the tangle of lush green is, literally, all weeds and vines.
When we came home, I began contemplating that sandbox again, the clutter of old sand toys and rusted trucks. Truthfully, our boys are still at the age where they can’t let go of anything, not even a sandbox that over the winter may have served better as a litter pan for the neighborhood cats.
So we will keep the sandbox for another year. Maybe even fill it with clean sand and enforce sandbox time.
And for this season, anyway, I’ll stick to what I’ve been reduced to in our ten years here, the few potted plants I keep on the deck, just outside the kitchen door, where I can at least entertain the illusion of a real garden, however naturally wild or manicured it might never be: