I was checking to see if more tulips had bloomed in my garden last week, when a woman stopped on the sidewalk, studied the flower bed for a moment, and said, “You don’t plant anything in straight lines, do you?” I smiled and thanked her for the compliment. Clusters of crocuses, tulips, grape hyacinths and daffodils weave through the emerging perennials. Oriental poppies in shades of burgundy, purple and red, planted in random spots, will add jewel tones to the color palette. This summer, Canterbury bells, phlox, delphiniums and Japanese anemone will grow in pastel tangles along the front border, and hollyhocks will pop up among their shorter mates.
My path as an impetuous gardener began years ago, when I discovered romantic gardens planted within a whimsical world of shops and cafes called Country Village in suburban Bothell, Wash., where our family lived. I felt drawn to the village’s gone-back-in-time charm, with its duck pond, novelty train tracks, and storekeepers who sold an eclectic mix of Americana crafts and artwork, antique jewelry, penny candy, vintage toys and kitchenware. A 16-foot wooden sculpture of a polka-dotted chicken stood guard at the roadside entrance, and the village’s free-spirited mascots, a flock of actual chickens, wandered along its curving brick walkways and into nearby shops.
The real attraction for me, though, was the sheer joy and creativity of the flower beds around the shops, and the long wooden troughs, planted with bright annuals, perennials and herbs, set at intervals along the paths. Thirty years ago, I hadn’t yet become any sort of gardener, but I remember walking through Country Village and imagining myself as its chief garden staffer.
When Bothell friends told me that Country Village had been sold to a property developer in 2017 and then razed to make room for townhouses, I thought of a Joni Mitchell lyric: “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” Since then I’ve tried to honor the village’s fanciful soul in my own garden here in Moscow, planting free-flowing flower beds and setting out polka-dotted metal chickens to roost in our vegetable patch every summer. I just wish Lee and I had room for a 16-foot chicken sculpture near the rose arbor in our front yard.
Our fancy chickens came out of the garden shed last weekend, which marked the start of my first season without Benjamin BadKitten, who passed away two months ago. BBK was my faithful, though work-shy, chief garden staffer, and I loved him beyond words. For my first project without him, I worked in our backyard, planting broccoli starts in a raised bed, which they’ll share with rows of climbing sweet peas. I knew I could work there alone, behind the lilac grove and the fence, where no one would hear me crying. The garden — my Church of Dirt and Flowers — is normally a place of peace and joy for me. It is also a refuge, where I can yield to the power of grief and find comfort in the promise of hope.
The next day I looked out our kitchen window to the apple tree in the front yard,
and saw lemon-yellow and raspberry-breasted finches fluttering around the bird feeders. A red-headed woodpecker chose a branch of the tree to drum out love songs to potential mates. I went back outside, filled a big bucket with compost and lugged it to a raised bed in our side yard. When I set down the bucket, I saw three red tulips and a patch of wild violets, growing in gravel on the dry, narrow path between the beds.
I had nearly finished weeding the tiered flower bed nearby, when I found two clusters of miniature carnations, each with an identical indentation of dead, brittle stems — the size of a cat’s rounded bottom — at its center. Apparently, in his final days on the job last fall, BBK couldn’t find his favorite pansy bed to pee in.
Craft Rozen wonders if a 16-foot, polka-dotted chicken sculpture in her front yard could become the neighborhood mascot. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org