Now, 20 years or so in, there is nothing solitary about this pursuit at all. I am now surrounded by plants that once belonged to important people in my life, and I keenly feel their presence. This isn’t my garden; it’s my community garden.
Mal was the first of many benefactors. I’ve done very well by the boxwood he gave me; it sort of makes up for the rhododendrons. The flowering nettle that edges the stone wall in the back of the house came from the garden of my best friend, Arlene; a particularly graceful fern from the garden of my friend, Susan. I have irises around the large rock in the front of our house only because my friend Nancy dug up and divided them on my behalf. It’s also because of Nancy that as of three weeks ago, I have a canna lily sprouting large shapely leaves in a bed just off our deck near the garage.
In much the way cooks share their recipes, gardeners share their plants. My sister-in-law built her backyard plot on the largess of a friend who was moving from Connecticut to North Carolina and invited her over to forage. The haul included a mess of Lady’s Mantle, barrenwort, coneflowers and phlox.
An elderly neighbor who saw me admiring her trumpet and Asiatic lilies one morning when I was walking our dog, surprised me a few days later with several flowering clumps. Detailed planting instructions were followed by the story of how she met her recently deceased husband. (She was his much younger secretary and though they were married to other people, they fell madly in love — his first gift to her was flowers; guess what kind — and ran off together. My neighbor, who became a good friend, died half a dozen years ago, but the lilies she gave me return faithfully every midsummer.
Frequently, I have gotten advice along with the additions — about grouping plants in odd numbers to bolster visual interest, about the importance of thoroughly soaking the root ball before planting, about the folly of over-raking out a bed during the spring cleanup, in the process depriving vulnerable plants of needed warmth, and about the desirability of arranging a bed to have flowers with different bloom times, thus assuring color all season. Then there was this: plant hostas and day lilies if you must, but understand that you are doing nothing so much as providing a Bambi buffet. Did I listen? Alas, I did not.