I just returned from visiting my parents in Richmond. As we walked around the neighborhood, I gawked at the stunning floral displays in every yard. Richmonders, at least the ones where I grew up, take pride in manicured lawns and dazzling displays of flowers. The azaleas were in full bloom and every sidewalk was lined with mulched beds of impatiens, roses, pansies, petunias, salvias and sages: all of it weeded and trimmed to perfection.
I came home and took a long look at my front yard. I love flowers just as much as my city friends, but somehow my efforts never translate into the riotous beds of blooms that they’ve achieved. For one thing, I have walnut trees. My walnut trees whisper softly in every summer breeze and host orioles and other small birds who wake me with joyful song. The trees shade my hammock with their gnarly arms and leave only a small trace of leaves for me to rake up in the fall. They even provide nuts for cakes and pies. But, walnuts hate to share the lawn. They nourish grass, but kill almost every flower or tree that is planted beneath their widespread crowns. And so, I’ve reduced my flower beds to the few plants that can tolerate the walnut’s acidic roots: daylilies, coneflowers, hostas, bleeding hearts and sedums.
Then there’s my dog, Luke. He loves the lawn and flower beds even more than I do. He loves them because they provide great places to stash all of his bones. He refuses to limit his collection to the few bones I toss out after a steak or pork dinner. Luke is a hoarder. He travels great distances to find and bring back bones of all descriptions. I cannot fathom where he gets them all. I recently removed two deer skulls, five assorted bovine bones, a set of sheep ribs, and various legs with hooves and hair still attached.
If Joe or one of the boys shoots a ground hog out in the front meadows, Luke lets it age for several days and then drags it into the yard. Usually I find these offerings before they become overwhelmingly offensive, but on occasion if I’m preoccupied as I mow, I have been awakened from my daydreams by a grinding noise and a fan of ripe guts and flesh spewing out from under my feet. Luke leaps for joy every time I make this mistake, chasing down the body parts and rolling ecstatically in the macerated mess.
If I have discovered the rotting body and carried it far away from the house, Luke brings it back and buries it in the flower beds for further aging. Last week, I was planting some hostas when I noticed a small mound of mulch in the back of the bed. I reached out with my ungloved hand to smooth it down and raked my fingers through slimy gore. Luke seemed puzzled by my strong reaction to his gift. The smell lingered on my hands for several days.
Then there are the livestock grazing around the house. Last year, my daylilies were radiant against my white board fence until the lambs reached through and ate the flowers. The horses love the rosebushes and the cows love anything they can get to. My sister still chuckles at her memory of being awakened one morning by an unearthly shrieking. Thinking the house was on fire, she jumped from her bed and caught a flash of blue wailing around the house. It was me, in my nightie and muck boots, hurtling after five cows and screaming bloody murder. They had managed to push open a gate and spent the early morning hours destroying my vegetable garden. Even the chickens have found ways into the yard, digging holes beneath the chicken wire I stapled up to thwart them. They prefer a dust bath shaded by hostas.
So, while I enjoy the cultivated perfection blooming in the suburbs, I gave up my dreams of garden glory years ago. Now, I plant daffodils on the hills surrounding my house and enjoy the wild Joe Pye and Iron Weed blooms in the meadow. I pick daisies from the shale banks and Queen Anne’s Lace to decorate my tables.
Joe has decided he would like a flower bed in the yard this year. He’s made plans for a raised bed full of zinnias and dahlias, delphiniums and larkspur. I am all for it. I’m anticipating some early morning entertainment when Joe wakes and discovers the cows dining on dahlias. I wonder if he’ll stop to put on his boots.