My garden path, which is also the most direct way to approach my entry gate, is a glut of sunflowers so that to actually use it, you’re well advised to wield a machete. Most everyone who needs to come into my yard goes the long way around the gardens, using the sidewalk to approach the gate.
|From dirt & dogs|
That’s how I met my dear gardener-friend Kenton. He had been watching my garden develop season after season, finally rode by when I was actually out there weeding, and stopped to introduce himself and speak to me in Latin plant names that I didn’t understand. This kind of thing isn’t that unusual these days. People stop to photograph, to ask questions, to tell me they go out of their way to walk by this garden every day because it makes them happy, to shout a thanks for the beauty as they cruise by on their bikes, to complain about the public nuisance that is my sunflowers.
|From dirt & dogs|
White of hair and rosy of cheek, this woman didn’t go to my gate, but pushed another sunflower out of the way, stumbling a bit as it pushed back, to make the turn from the pathway onto the sidewalk, and slowed to examine the garden. She shuffled past the potatoes and beets, stopped at the young bush beans that are a little late getting going, noted the row covers wrapped in bird netting, bent to sniff a daisy, and slid a pair of scissors out of her back pocket.
~ ~ ~
I’ve learned that if you’re going to grow flowers along the sidewalk, you’d better expect to share them with strangers. Every Mother’s Day, four or five of my bearded iris are sloppily snapped off and taken. I’m pretty sure it’s the boys two blocks down. It’s probably the only thing their mom gets on Mother’s Day, so I’m happy to make that contribution. I used to have exotic, exquisite, enormous black tulips called Queen of the Night, but those were extra popular and they simply aren’t there anymore – not even the underground bulbs. For this reason, I don’t plant foods in the outer garden that have an obvious, theft-worthy fruit on them; I only put things out there that either produce an underground crop – potatoes, beets, onions – or that don’t look really enticing – greens and lettuces, green gage plums that maybe won’t get picked because they’ll never look ripe - or that no one here will recognize as food - eggplant. This is the first year I’ve put squash and melons in the sidewalk garden and I’m a little nervous about it. I’m hoping the tangle/jungle factor will make them too difficult to steal. Also, they ought to be pretty well covered up by their leaves and each one will be slung in a mesh bag and tied to a vertical trellis. Removing them won’t be a quick and easy grab-and-go operation.
~ ~ ~
I was surprised when this scissor-toting woman didn’t come up with a fistful of daisies, but remained bent over, cutting, scooting along, bending and cutting some more, and… kicking. Bending, cutting, kicking, cutting, kicking.
After just a few minutes of this, she righted herself, surveyed her work, returned the scissors to her back pocket, and drifted away down the alley, not once looking back. Upon examination, I saw that she had been cutting yellowed, bug-eaten leaves off of my hollyhocks and kicking the cuttings back into the garden beds to get them off the sidewalk, out of sight. She didn’t whack any vegetables; she didn’t take a single flower. She came here to prune my plants. She came, she pruned, she went. I have since seen her walking other parts of town with just her water bottle and scissors. Today she was on Main Street, scissors drawn, I presume to tend the flower beds that line the six or seven blocks of the downtown area.
~ ~ ~
There was a time when I decided I was going to be the Phantom Bonsai Pruner of the local trail system where we most often bike. The area is forested by pinyon and juniper trees, many of which are stunted by desert conditions, so that there are natural bonsai-ish trees everywhere you turn. They’re beautiful just as they are, but in some cases, just one cut here, a little snip there, just a slight bend in that branch, would turn the tree into an absolute work of botanical art. Wouldn’t it be so cool, I thought, if over the next five or ten years, the whole area were to be transformed very gradually, discreetly, subtly, into a magical botanical wonderland with all these natural bonsai trees that had mysteriously taken on really amazing, artful forms, and that people could enjoy while they ran and rode out there?
If I were working with the volunteer trail crews, I reasoned, it wouldn’t be that weird to also tend to some of the trail-side trees while I was out there. If I were just trimming up branches that were damaged by riders crashing into them and breaking them, I rationalized, that wouldn’t be so weird. It helps the trees heal faster and be healthier. It’s a way I can contribute. So I packed my small pruning shears in my backpack the next time I went for a ride. When I got to one of my favorite little bonsais that is growing out of a crack in a rock, I laid my bike down, whipped out my shears, readied to cut just the one low branch that would allow the lovely sharp curve of the trunk to be a bit more visible, hesitated a moment, and thought, “I am some kind of whack job. If anyone sees me, they too will think I am some kind of whack job. Could a person get arrested for this? Is there a misdemeanor called Criminal Pruning?”
~ ~ ~
My mystery pruning lady is quite possibly me in 30 years. Maybe she feels that all of nature’s creations belong to all of us, and she is contributing what she can to make the world a more beautiful place. Maybe she finds herself without a garden of her own at the moment, and just needs a fix. Maybe she finds the state of my hollyhocks simply deplorable. Maybe she's a guerilla gardener. Whatever her motive, please, for her sake and that of my potential future self, if you see a sweet, pink-cheeked elderly lady out dead-heading your flowers and pruning your shrubs, just leave her be. She isn’t hurting anything, and she’s making your garden a better place. And her water bottle might need a refill; she probably gave all her water to your thirst-plagued plants.