Even an introvert like moi was getting stir-crazy at home, where my husband, Lee, and I are taking the coronavirus pandemic seriously. People who can choose to follow the CDC’s preventative guidelines — and don’t — are invasive weeds in our national garden.
My Church of Dirt and Flowers has always been a place of peace for me. So when the temperature recently reached 40 degrees, I realized I could stay healthy and safe working outside in a patch of dirt I’d nearly forgotten. Time to carpe the diem. Carrying a spade, weed bucket and hand trowel, I marched out to face the Garden of Dread, a curbside swath on the east side of our backyard past the gate, with a flowering quince at one end and a bed of wild roses at the other. In the unkempt area between them, tall knots of quackgrass were trying to smother the struggling hollyhocks and irises.
I love taking care of the flower garden in our front yard, and I watch for shagginess in the narrow beds of sweet peas, honeysuckle, hollyhocks and roses that grow along our fence lines. But it’s easy to ignore the Garden of Dread lurking behind a small thicket of lilac trees. Those lilacs became our toddler granddaughter’s “secret hideout” during the year that Lee and I took care of her.
Sammy found magic among the lilacs’ low-growing limbs. Many mornings I stood guard while she scrambled over the branches and explored their cozy shelters. Our fairy child, I thought, with her red-gold hair and polka-dot boots. We turned a tangle of leafy branches into the hideout’s front door, which Sammy and I decorated, using imaginary paint and twigs as our brushes. She frowned when I suggested red for the door, with happy yellow trim. “Everything pink,” she said in a voice as stern as a 2-year-old charmer’s can be.
We needed the Garden of Dread then, because its quackgrass and roses formed a scratchy, thorny boundary between Sammy’s hideout and the street. From her first trip to the lilac grove, her grandpa and I taught her never to go farther than the edge of the tall grass. Our weekdays with Sammy ended when she started preschool, but we left the garden untouched for another year. It became even more dreadful as the roots of the quackgrass grew deeper and more defiant. Soon it had become a jungle for Benjamin BadKitten, the tiger king of B Street, useful as camouflage when BBK flattened himself into a rotund pancake to spy on sinister-looking cats or dogs.
Last week I made a good start on taking down Ben’s espionage headquarters, digging down to those long root ends with as much torque as my brittle knees permitted. After every few shovelfuls, I knelt, used the trowel to bang off loose sod and then carefully threaded out the roots by hand. After four hours, during which every muscle below my waist moaned in protest, I had cleared a fine patch. I’ll have another go at the rest of the roots soon, to help me remember that the Garden of Dread is only a season in nature’s cycle of renewal and hope.
Sydney Craft Rozen recently discovered that, of more than 7,500 tomato varieties in the world, five out of the nine plant varieties she wanted to grow were already sold out. This is why she never buys lottery tickets. Email her at email@example.com