It was more excitement than is probably good for me, the garden tour. I was unable to lift or bend in getting ready for it -- two things a gardener really needs to be able to do -- but my granddaughter can do both, and was eager for some back-to-school money. So Madeline mulched and hauled, pruned and watered two hours a day for two weeks, getting ready. This experience taught her that she enjoys gardening, sort of; her mom tells me that she replanted one of their flower beds at home one afternoon when she came home from our place.
We bought lemons and sugar for lemonade the day before the tour. How many people do you think will come? Q asked, as he picked a big bunch of mint for the iced tea.
I can't imagine, I said. This was the Arts Society's first garden tour, so there was no track record to inform an intelligent prediction. Twenty? A hundred? Nobody?
I hoped it wasn't nobody. But then I also hoped nobody would come, because maybe I was the only person who thought our garden was wonderful, because maybe we'd look foolish and pathetic, because maybe people would take everything in with a bored glance and get back in their cars as quickly as was decent, wondering who on earth had thought our garden worth putting on a tour. So I hoped for two mutually exclusive things, something I do fairly often.
I sat on the porch and waited. A lady walked up the sidewalk and began to look at the Sedum "Autumn Joy." I told her what a wonderful plant it is, how it's green in summer and rusty red in winter, how you don't have to do a thing with it except toss it a compliment now and then. Then two more ladies, who had nice things to say about my stone path. Good morning! I sang, lemonade's in the back, and they came up and introduced herself. All day they trickled in, two and three and four at a time, people we knew and people we didn't know, parents with babies on their backs, people on bikes, people in cars. By the end of the day, we'd welcomed 150 people.
I gave people purple basil, free-for-nothing. Q gave them bamboo poles, as many as they could carry. A few close friends got tomatoes. One lady bemoaned her inability to find a coreopsis like mine, and I was able to give her some that had taken gratuitous root under the fig tree and was unlikely to thrive there. Some people stared at the fruit-laden fig tree in disbelief: Figs? In New Jersey? Others had fig trees of their own, and exchanged notes with Q on their culture, which is indeed a challenge in our climate zone. His enormous book about Stowe was open on the picnic table, and people browsed the engravings of Lord Cobham's garden there. It might be the most beautiful garden in England, although competition for that distinction is stiff. I sat on the front porch, where an 18th/century engraving of people taking a garden tour at Versailles sat on an easel. See, I told people, they were doing what you're doing today.
In the middle of the day, after a few hours of talking and smiling and showing people things, I was suddenly exhausted -- even though I'd scarcely left my chair. Why should a person be tired out from talking and sitting in a chair? I had no good answer to that question, but crept upstairs for a lie-down, which turned into a two-hour nap. When I emerged, the tour was nearing its end. Everyone was in the back with Q, watching the hummingbirds. I sat quietly and watched, too, still tired.
Wasn't it a wonderful day? I asked Charlotte. Their garden was on the tour ,as well.
It sure was, she said. Once in a lifetime.
I still can't believe it happened. That people loved my garden as much as I do.
I know, she said. You never know if it's really wonderful or if you just think it's wonderful because it's yours. Oh, hey, I need some bamboo. My tomatoes are getting way too tall.
Sure, I said. Take all you want. There's a bunch leaning against the garage. We walked there in the dark and she took three or four long poles.
Take tomatoes and peppers. Take all the bamboo you want, and all the mint, and all the purple basil and lavender and rosemary. Inhale their fragrance and let them fill your lungs with happiness.
I walked back to the house through the garden. It was cool and still. God, it says in the Bible, walked in the garden in the cool of the day. Just to enjoy the beauty he had made.