I’ve always wanted a nice garden. I used to tell myself: Bill, when you grow up, you’re going to have a nice garden. I grew up in a townhouse, a duplex, a double-storey, with a cemented-in back yard and a bricked front yard. There were a couple of pots around with some plants in them and that was my perception of gardening. My parents were not gardeners. My dad liked bricks. Portuguese grass, he called it, and I think that may have been a racial slur. I don’t get it. Didn’t get it then and don’t get it now.
One year I went with a friend and his parents on a day-trip. They went to visit family friends and I was invited along. The family friends had this beautiful country house and – when we arrived – they were seated at a table in their garden. Garden, though, is not the right word. Wonderland, I think, is closer. They were sitting on a couple acres of ground and the lawns rolled on and on for what seemed – to a boy of 11 or 12 – that it must go on forever. The colour, though, the colour, was all around. Nameless trees and bushes and plants, from purples and blues to yellows and greens and oranges. There were fruit trees and we were told which we could pick from. There was a swing here and a bench there and another table and chairs out in the orchards and boy, did we eat from those trees! Apples and peaches and even some figs, which was forbidden, though they did serve some of them with lunch.
Some of the memories of that day may be a little fuzzy, sure, it’s to be expected as a man gets older, this selective memory and the filling in of the blanks but as clear as day I remember saying to myself: Bill, when you grow up, you’re going to have a nice garden.
My friend moved away the following year to another country and that was a big pity because I don’t make friends easily. I’ve been called socially awkward and I guess that’s true, to a point. I seem to have trouble reading people’s intentions and my therapist – when I used to go because my parents sent me – said that I had trouble reading facial cues and body language, tone and nuance. She gave me coping mechanisms so it wasn’t all useless. I still practice my smile in the mirror, and my frown, and other facial expressions that I have to use in society. I had a couple of girlfriends but they don’t stay very long. I don’t abide with bad language, and with drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes, and racism, and I like to dress neatly. This caused some trouble in high school, as you can well imagine, even though I would tell the other kids that I am a nice boy and they just have to get to know me, like mom said I should. It didn’t really work and so now I prefer the company of my garden.
Because I did get one, eventually. Oh, it isn’t big like the Country Wonderland House but it is pretty and I like pretty things around me. When I moved out of my parent’s house I had a first floor apartment in a building downtown. The first thing I did was get in some planter pots and started with simple things like daisies and marigolds. They’re pretty when they flower but gosh-awful when they don’t. Just sticks, really, and who likes just-stick plants? Not I. One girlfriend told me to give up and we had a row and she didn’t stay. Pity. She was pretty like the daisies.
When I got a promotion at work and could afford to I moved into a ground floor apartment with an attached garden. There, I was free to dig into the ground and I began to experiment with more plants. Now I could add some bushes, really interesting things, annuals like Blue Marguerites and Corn Poppies. I would experiment more with colour than style or shape, as some are wont to do, and before long my little garden was the talk of the building. People on the upper floors would look down and comment and a couple of the older ladies would come by and ask to see but they didn’t really stay long either and before long people stopped asking. My therapist said that I needed to practice being personable and accommodating and it was at that stage that I left the therapist.
When the building went up for sale I had to leave. I wasn’t that concerned. I had been planning on it anyway and had found a place outside of town, not too far that I couldn’t commute to work, but far enough out that uninvited guests would be scarce and with the space I needed to really start exploring. I had been toying with the idea of putting in a water feature and it cost a lot of money so I had been saving for it. Oh, it took me a number of years and a lot of sweat, blood, and tears, but it really started shaping up the way I liked it. The front garden I kept pretty plain. Just some succulents, that sort of thing, lots of stones and cobbles for walkways and a couple of trees that had already been there. I just complemented it with colour and a tasteful white fence.
The back, though, that was a different story. I went to town on that. I enclosed all four sides of the garden in trellising and climbing shrubs: Angel’s Trumpets, Carolina Allspice, dwarf palms and rosemary. Again, I went for colour. I chose plants and bushes and shrubs for their aesthetic quality, and like the front created pathways with stones and cobbles. The centre of the garden I enclosed as well, digging and securing trellising and again growing them over. This was my little Private Place where I could come and sit and read, and enjoy my garden. I had a small table and a single chair, and of course a swing because who doesn’t like a swing?
And, more importantly, my water feature, right in the centre of my Private Place. The man who built it called it a “grow box” and that made sense. I would have called it a greenhouse, more correctly, and it was completely square. Cube, a cube, not a square. Two meters to a side and two meters high. The glass was pretty thick, tempered, against breakages and it was solidly sealed on all sides. A door in the side was also sealed. It was water tight but not air tight, as small breathing holes were drilled into the top of the cube. This was important, because of the herbs I had growing inside it. Piping, very well done if I say so myself and totally pleasing to the eye, ran across the top of the cube. Water, when the pump was running, would course across the top and down the sides, which gave the whole cube the appearance of shimmering in the light. It was especially beautiful at night, when the interior lights were on (I could choose between blue and purple) and the water cascaded down the sides of the cube. The holes in the top would let water in slowly, in drips, and the whole effect was my own private rain storm inside the box. I would sit in it sometimes and let the water rain down on me, and I would turn my face up to it and breathe in the fragrant air of the herbs and would think to myself: well, Bill, you have a nice garden.
And as I sat in my chair with my book in the late afternoon light and watched the little rain storm in the cube, I truly hoped that the young girl inside thought the same.
This is Part 1 of a longer story, which will soon be published as part of a collection.