If you were to read my article A Child's Christmas Tree, you would know that I took on a seemingly Herculean task of removing overgrowth, weeds and holly trees to create my own personal version of the perfect garden. Days, weeks, months and years of work went into my creation and when I left that little piece of heaven, it still was not complete. A garden never is really completem is it?
I gathered the inspiration for this story as I read a book by Michael Pollan called The Botany of Desire. It argues that humans are the ones being manipulated by plants rather than the other way around. That made me think of all the actions that I took in that small Watford garden and how each action brought about something that was perhaps intended by nature. I realize now, after all these years, something more was obtained -- something of even more value and deeper satisfaction than my work of bringing a garden back to life.
As I worked on it each day, I seemed to discover more and more formidable obstacles. One nagging obstacle was a misplaced portion of a beautiful beech hedge. I loved this hedge, but there was one part of it that made it very difficult to create that perfect row of bedding plants. I am certainly not a formal gardener. The manicured look is not of my taste but I do enjoy a bit of uniformity just to create the illusion of organized chaos. As such, I do like to have areas devoted to perhaps a perennial border or rows of annuals I can swap out every year. As I designed, I set up bamboo edging; when I looked at it I realized the front of the border was off by a lot. The problem? A bit of hedge that decided its place in the garden was to illustrate its non-conformity and throw off the symmetry of my little border by growing over a foot in front of the rest of the hedge.
Well, I could not have this. I realized it would not be a case of simply using a chainsaw to bring the trunk level to the ground. I needed the earth this non-conformist was utilizing. I would just dig it out; it should not take too long. After several long evenings after work, I realized I had to rethink things a bit. The beech rootball was very loose and I thought perhaps I could wiggle it out. Memories of childhood came back to me when I used to wiggle my teeth to come out. But this hedge was very stubborn and no amount of wiggling would release its death grip from the ground I coveted.
Ironically, in my quest to create the perfect border, I was making a rather large mess of it. Bamboo edging was strewn here and there. Dirt was piled anywhere I could find a spot and when it rained, that dirt turned to running mud. I had created a war zone. I was actually destroying the garden in my effort to save it from this monster. One morning before work I went out just to stare at this thing, this nuisance, this irritant that was keeping me from creating true beauty. I got on my bike and headed to work. When a good friend greeted me, he could tell I was irritated. I explained what was happening and he offered to come over to my house at lunch where he would have a go. I cannot recall if this was the actual chain of events that resulted in my friend coming over but the end result was I had free labor while I assumed the role of spectator.
We only had an hour for lunch, so he got to work right away. He dug a bit, wiggled a lot, dug a bit more and with one large tug, the hedge broke free! I was so delighted I think I actually screamed out with sheer joy. I could finally get on with performing the more worthwhile tasks of creating something beautiful as opposed to tearing everything up.
Not many people in this world would do what my friend did for me that day. Rather than having lunch, he got covered in dirt and sweat lifting out something I was not capable of doing. In the end, I kind of felt bad for that piece of hedge. It was strong and obviously loved its place in my little garden. I knew it did not want to leave yet, through circumstance and my own desire to manipulate the ground I had temporarily been given, I forced it out. Getting back to my mention of Michael Pollan, I realize now, perhaps this hedge manipulated me. While it is true, I ended the life of that piece of hedge that day, something else was born that was even more formidable and stronger than this hedge's will to stay.
True, life-long friends do not come around every day. They are of great value and thanks to one memory, one book, one moment; I gathered the inspiration to create this story for all of you. May this holiday season bring you peace, joy, comfort and love.
This article is dedicated to my true friend Dan. Thank you for everything you have ever done for me. I do not tell you nearly enough just how much I appreciate you.
Looking back, I can see the faces that I used to know. Like a picture show and the seeds that I had sewn. It wasn't bad in fact there were times when it all felt right. Not much needed to define a stitch in time -- Matt and Pauly Zarb
Thumbnail image is from Wikimedia Commons. Garden image was taken by the author.