I was checking to see if any other tulips had bloomed in my garden last week, when a woman stopped on the sidewalk, studied the flower bed for a moment and said, “You don’t plant nothing in straight lines, right?” I smiled and thanked her for the compliment. Clusters of crocuses, tulips, grape hyacinths and daffodils mingle with emerging perennials. Oriental poppies in burgundy, purple and red tones, planted in random spots, will add jewel tones to the color palette. This summer, Canterbury bells, phloxes, delphiniums and Japanese anemones will grow in pastel tangles along the front border, and hollyhocks will appear among their shorter companions.
My journey as a brash gardener began years ago when I discovered romantic gardens planted in a whimsical world of shops and cafes called Country Village in the suburb of Bothell, Washington, where our family lived. I was drawn to the old-world charm of the village, with its duck pond, unusual railroad tracks, and vendors selling an eclectic mix of American crafts and art, antique jewelry, sweets, vintage toys and kitchen utensils. A 16ft wooden sculpture of a spotted chicken stood guard at the entrance to the road, and the village’s free-spirited mascots, a flock of real chickens, strolled along its curving brick walkways. and in nearby stores.
The real attraction for me, however, was the sheer joy and creativity of the flowerbeds around the shops, and the long wooden tubs, planted with annuals, perennials and bright herbs, arranged at intervals along the pathways. . Thirty years ago, I hadn’t yet become a gardener, but I remember walking through Country Village and imagining myself as the head of the garden.
When friends from Bothell told me that Country Village had been sold to a property developer in 2017 and then razed to make way for townhouses, I thought of a saying from Joni Mitchell: “They’ve paved paradise and set up a parking lot. Since then, I’ve tried to honor the whimsical soul of the village in my own garden here in Moscow, planting free-flowing flower beds and setting up metal spotted chickens to roost in our vegetable patch every summer. . I just wish Lee and I had room for a 16 foot chicken sculpture by the rose arbor in our front yard.
Our fancy chickens came out of the garden shed last weekend, which marked the start of my first season without Benjamin BadKitten, who passed away two months ago. BBK was my trusty, if shy at work, garden staff manager, and I loved him beyond words. For my first project without it, I worked in our garden, planting broccoli sprouts in a raised bed, which they will share with rows of climbing sweet peas. I knew I could work there alone, behind the lilac grove and the fence, where no one would hear me cry. The garden – my church of earth and flowers – is normally a place of peace and joy for me. It is also a refuge, where I can yield to the power of grief and find solace in the promise of hope.
The next day I looked out the kitchen window at the apple tree in the front yard,
and I saw lemon-yellow and raspberry-breasted finches fluttering around the bird feeders. A red-headed woodpecker chose a branch of the tree to sing love songs to potential friends. I went back outside, filled a large bucket with compost, and dragged it to a raised bed in our side yard. When I put the bucket down, I saw three red tulips and a clump of wild violets, growing in the gravel on the dry, narrow path between the flowerbeds.
I had almost finished weeding the nearby tiered flowerbed when I found two clusters of miniature carnations, each with an identical imprint of dead, brittle stems – about the size of a cat’s rounded bottom. – in its center. Apparently, on his last days of work last fall, BBK couldn’t find his favorite pansy bed to pee on.
Craft Rozen wonders if a 16-foot spotted chicken sculpture in her front yard could become the neighborhood mascot. Email him at [email protected]