The Isolated Gardener
by Julie Carpenter
Since I’ve been in isolation, my world has become much smaller. I am fortunate enough to have a yard where I can plant things and a local nursery with a good no-contact, curbside pickup plan. So, I have planted some vegetables in raised beds and put some flowers in the front of the house. Even though I’m doing my best to distract myself with gardening, my world has quite suddenly become much smaller. As a writer, I work from home, and now I also entertain myself at home. The most I get out is to walk around the neighborhood, which fortunately has wide streets and residents who politely cross the street to make sure they don’t break social distancing.
Most of the houses here were built in the sixties and seventies, so there are mature trees and flowering shrubs. We don’t have an HOA so residents of my neighborhood are free to follow their own fancies as to what to include and where to plant it. Some people have beds full of perennials. One house has a line of graceful Japanese maples in the front of the lawn that soften the front prospect of the house with a veil of leaves in the summer. Almost everyone has some sort of flowering tree or shrub in the front yard and I’m starting to think of my neighbors in terms of their plants. There’s the azalea hedge house, the crabapple house, the circus house (a fun mix of azaleas…maybe almost too much fun). All in all, I’ve been surprised at how content I’ve been with simply wandering around my own little bit of the world and watching it change.
I’m reminded of the preface to G.K. Chesteron’s essay collection, Tremendous Trifles, in which two young boys are each granted a wish by a fairy. One wishes to become a giant so that he may take the earth in his stride, but finds everything small and dull from his height. The other wishes to become only half an inch high and finds his own yard a forest of wonder and delight. Leaving aside the question of being stepped on, I feel much the same way as a I walk around my neighborhood.
My long walks give me time to observe new colors blending together as some flowers bloom out and some fade. When we moved in last year, there was a lot I didn’t notice. This year, instead of taking a quick walk around the same streets, we’ve had time to walk almost the entire neighborhood.
The lockdown in my area started as daffodils and forsythia were blooming bright gold, the azaleas just opening buds. Every day, every walk, the azaleas gained color and there were pinks, and purples (my favorite), mingled with white, fuchsia, and even a brick red (meh). But the wonderful thing was discovering all the hedges and mounds of azaleas I’d never seen before. One neighbor has what appears to be an eight-foot tall orange monster of an azalea down in the hollow of his backyard. I've never seen such a magnificent thing. I’m as delighted by that discovery as almost anything I've seen on this side of the quantum fields. This year too, I noticed more of the subtle slender, tree-like native azaleas with flowers that look and smell like honeysuckle in pale pink, yellow, and apricot. They’re easy to miss from the window of a car.
We have had time to admire the dark pink and ivory blossoms of gnarled crapabbles, and the fat tissue paper flowers of the Kwanzan cherries. This year we noticed an that old redbud had every limb covered in tight purple knots, even in a few spots on the trunk, like it was breaking out in some sort of floral measles. We could smell the wisteria that hangs at the back of the yards all down one long cove, a massive wave of periwinkle color that's almost frightening as it swallows trees. Now that the azaleas flowers are wadding themselves up like damp Kleenex, snowball bushes, the cheerful clowns of the shrub world are distracting us with their exaggerated fistfuls of flowers, the irises and roses are blooming, and the hydrangeas are showing signs of joining the party. Every day the same walk is a little different.
My world has gotten smaller, but I’ve started to appreciate the details. I sincerely hope we’re all back out soon. I can’t wait to visit the botanical gardens here and in Huntsville as soon as I can, but in the meantime, I’m glad I’ve discovered the little world right outside my front door.
Julie Carpenter is the author of Things Get Weird in Whistlestop and creator of the Sacred Chickens website. She is dedicated to telling stories and making sure that indie writers and publishers have a way to be heard. She uses narrative, her own and others’, to help interpret the world. She has a Master of Professional Writing from the University of Memphis, with an emphasis in Composition Theory. She wants to bend reality one story at a time. Julie’s work has appeared in Fiction on the Web and her Letter to Essie was included in The New Guard Volume VII.