Digging and planting a garden
I felt like my mother on Sunday 15th August as I squat on my legs and bent my back to dig the dried-up soil from the raised flowerbeds. That's how I remember my childhood. My mother was always busying herself in our backyard in Okinawa. She tirelessly worked on the earth planting organic vegetables year after year.
In the summer of the Spanish soiree in London, my mother spent many afternoons clearing my overgrown garden to replenish with soil from my compost bin. She repotted all my indoor plants with the unfertilised soil which later bred houseflies. Watching her toil in my garden made me even more helpless. Gardening was her domain. I never offered to help then or as a child.
For six years I stared at my inadequate garden helplessly. It never occurred to me to beautify my garden after the rosemary bush dried up and the camillia plant suffocated from the overzealous vine. I just accepted my garden the way it was --- a place that was conquered by weeds and ivies. One summer I trimmed the Japanese maple. It protested for a year by showing its sick leaves and bare grey branches. The lesson I learned was to leave it alone.
Whenever I had tea with my neighbour in her exotic and bio-diversified garden, I would return to my own wishing by magic I could transform it into a place like hers. I would get depressed sitting in my garden, which had the reputation of being a favourite lavatory for local cats in this street.
At my 7th August barbeque party, a friend entered my garden and proclaimed, "Ah! What a wonderfully neglected garden!"
This had the effect of energising me into action.
On Sunday, I asked my neighbour to sell me some of her plants from her allotment. Why I never asked her before, I could only blame on my complacency and her lack of American salesmanship. Somehow it never connected, the fact that she sold new plants to anyone interested in buying and that I could be an attractive customer. I didn't picture myself as a customer, nor did I have the foresight to envision a garden grown from her many tiny pots of baby plants. She sold new plants every spring, a passion so great that she gave up her full-time job to become a garden designer.
My neighbour suggested putting the tall red canna lily in the sunny area surrounded by ponytail grass (stipa tenuissima). To give it more colour, she said to plant the two rudbeckia marmalade near it. The ornamental clover (trifolium William) would trail over the bricks.
"I'm always impressed by your knowledge of their latin names," I said. "Do you also have Sweet Williams?"
"They're biennials, so I don't tend to grow them."
"Biennials. Is that twice a year?" I asked.
"No, every two years."
Ah! I would be too impatient to wait every other year for a flower to bloom, let alone a friendship to recuperate from dormancy.
For the shady area, I bought three foxgloves (digitalis tanata "John Innes Tetra"), a linaria "Canon Went", an astranha major, and a crodium perlagoniflorum. I wanted flowers and plants that would spread and flower year after after. I wanted to cover up all visible soil to prevent cats from digging into the earth.
From six o'clock until nine o'clock when I couldn't see anymore, I toiled in hard, manual labour. I dug like a dog, on my hands and knees, scooping out the old soil and throwing them over the fence. The park behind my garden could do with more soil, I decided.
I used up 60 litres of multi-purpose compost in planting fourteen pots of plants and flowers. Next I covered the fresh compost surrounding the new plants with bricks to prevent the cats from getting too curious.
My mother would be proud of me, I thought. I finally came down to earth from my daydreams. It felt good to engage in physical activity after living in cyberspace and indulging in mental hyperactivity.
With the remaining 60 litres of compost, I will repot my houseplants and replant the spearmints in the front. If only I had done this six years ago, I would be enjoying the fruit of my labour. Instead, I can only imagine it from Holland and hope that my new tenants will appreciate my effort.
17 August 2004 Tuesday
There's a Chinese saying that goes like this:
If you want to be happy for a day, get drunk
If you want to be happy for a week, get married
If you want to be happy for the rest of your life, plant a garden.
The only problem is, I won't be able to enjoy the garden I've planted.