Gardening Ghosts

May 21st, 2010 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »

petunia1The outdoors in the new-to-us house makes me realize I’ve been Mabelized. My maternal grandmother, Mabel, is visiting me again from the inside out.

Twice this afternoon, I was aware. First, I had in hand watering cans with sprinkling heads. Then came the grass clippers. It was into the WABAC machine to Romney of my youth.

Mabel was very bright and often funny. She was also a martinet. My sister and I spent our summers with her and our grandfather, her husband, from shortly after we returned from the occupation army in Japan. I think with good reason, she resented taking care of her divorced daughter’s kids. So, she had us earn our keep, not in the Cinderella way, but more 19th century.

For example, weekly we dusted the stair uprigthts from newel to newel. She’d inspect each baluster’s turned bulbs and angles before approving, or not. We regularly did an unfavorite task of window cleaning too. That wasn’t traditional washing. Rather we used crumbled Cumberland Times and Hampshire Review pages with ammonia. It meant hours of tearing, coughing and red skin.

As the boy, from six I had boy duties. That included lugging out the galvanized cans of trash or slag from the coal furnace. Then there was digging out the proliferative dandelions. I also mowed the lawns, which brought with it hand clipping around the trees, steps, sidewalk and bushes. For reasons I can’t quite understand now, my least favored was watering the damned petunias.

The front porch offered grand views of two mountains up from Romney’s plateau. Apple and peach orchards made fabulous variegated green embroidery of the entire slopes. We could sit in rockers or a swing to watch the curtains of rain slowly advance west to east down the orchards toward us.

For me, the downside of the porch was those damned petunias. Mabel loved her petunias, which became mine for each summer. Three sides of the porch had low walls of white planters the width and the depth. Every inch had a petunia plant by roots or flower.

One of my jobs was to take one, two, three…maybe six or even eight sprinkling watering cans filled and to drown the petunias every single day, even rainy days. I also mowed the little lawns front and back, which took longer than watering those damned petunias, but for some reason, I didn’t mind the mowing. Perhaps it was using my whole body and feeling puerilely manly. Perhaps it was simply the stunning aroma of the cut grass.

So today, I was out again with the watering cans. It’s not petunias, but my containers of tomatoes, those of peppers and the railing boxes of annual herbs. Then I either hook up the hose or take cans to douse the three-by-six-foot raised bed of perennial herbs.

I honestly have to chuckle as I do. I remember the petunias.

I also hit the borders around the raised bed, the compost container and next to the stairs, bushes and trees with clippers. As in Romney, I clip after the mowing. Unlike in Romney, two sons alternate weeks mowing.

I can’t say I don’t know how to water or clip. I have experience.

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