GARDENING, I told myself, is the most sociable of hobbies. The very nature of one’s field of activities demands an audience. No one wants flowers to blush unseen or waste their sweetness. This was what I thought until last week.
Last week I worked hard, weeding, setting out new plants, dividing old ones. When at last I arose from my muddy knees, I felt elated, though weary, and eager to display the fruits of my labors. My first hope was an old friend who dropped in for tea. I restrained my impatience until she had been properly fed. Then I led her forth.
‘Oh yes,’ she cried, ‘I’d love to see your garden. I’m so fond of flowers.’
As we neared the scene of my triumphs, and I was slowing down to begin my introductory speech, she tucked her arm in mine and said, ‘I’m so glad to have a chance to chat with you alone. We have so many, many weeks to catch up.’
‘Yes indeed,’ I said vaguely. ‘Now here is the entrance, you see. I’m very proud of my iris. I planned these clumps myself so that I have three months of continuous bloom.’
‘How nice,’ she said, ‘Have you heard from Ann lately?’
‘No,’ I said, thinking to block that detour. It was the wrong answer.
‘Well, I have,’ said my guest, firmly planting her foot on my favorite sedum. ‘She’s been to a psychoanalyst and has a new ego — not a very nice one, if you ask me.’ Nothing would have induced me to ask her, but that made no difference. I learned all about Ann’s ego.
‘We’ll stay here by these clumps of iris until she looks at them,’ I thought, but I finally took pity on the sedum and led her on. Ann’s ego absorbed her until we had passed the peonies, about which I was bursting to talk. At last she paused for breath.
‘You must notice my Scotch broom,’ I said hastily. ‘It’s very rare in this country.’
‘Did you know the Scotts were getting a divorce?’ she asked. This time I knew better than to say no.
‘Yes,’ I said, concealing my surprise, ‘I heard all about it.’ But that did n’t work, either.
‘Oh, did you?’ she said. ‘I doubt if you know the whole truth. Few people do.’ The whole truth carried us past my violas, my prize lupins, my rare old pinks. The only interruption was when she fell over the watering pot.
‘I did n’t see it,’ she explained.
‘No,’ I said coldly, ‘you were n’t looking.’
It was several days before I recovered from this interview. I chose my next visitor more carefully. She was a real gardener, deeply interested in gardens, and she approached mine as eagerly as I did.
‘The hedge,’ I explained, ‘has not recovered from the terrible winter of 1934. It died right down to the ground.’
‘Don’t talk to me about the winter of ’34,’ she cried. ‘Do you know that I lost twro box bushes that were a hundred years old, and that lovely Dr. Van Fleet rose that I planted myself in 1920?’
I expressed genuine sympathy and then began again. ‘I’m very proud of my iris,’ I said.
‘Have you any Ambassadeurs?’ she asked. ‘You must get some. Mine are beautiful. They actually stand almost three feet high. I have another new variety, too — Moonlight. It’s perfectly beautiful.’
I hurried her on to the peonies. ‘These I divided and set out myself,’I said proudly, knowing that a real gardener would appreciate what a feat this was.
‘You have no single ones, have you?’ she asked. ’I have the prettiest ones, pale pink, the Japanese variety. You must come over and look at them before they go by.’
I was speechless after this, but she was not. My lovely blue lupins reminded her of her lovelier pink ones, my violas of the apricot ones she had at last achieved.
‘Have n’t you any dahlias?’ she asked.
‘No,’ I said firmly, ‘I hate them.’
‘Oh, but my dear, you would n’t hate mine if you once saw them. The flowers are five inches across, they really are, and such lovely colors. I have some extra roots. I’ll send them over.’
‘What I really want,’I said to myself plaintively, ‘is someone who will look at my garden and think about my garden for just a few minutes. It does n’t seem too much to ask.’ It was n’t. I found her. She was the worst of all.
‘I’m very proud of my iris,’ I began.
‘My dear,’ she cried, ‘how beautiful they are! I never saw a prettier combination of colors. Those pale lavender ones next to the deep purple are perfect, and that touch of yellow adds just the right contrast.’ My soul began to expand.
‘They are so perfect,’ she went on, ‘I think they ought to be where they would show off more. Could n’t you put them over there with the stone wall for a background?’
‘The peonies are there now,’I protested. ‘I set those all out myself. You have no idea what a job it was digging up the old roots and dividing them.’
‘Well, if I were you,’she said, ‘I’d put the peonies over here.’
‘Yes,’I said doubtfully, ‘but these lupins took five years to grow, and they don’t move well once they’re established.’
‘Oh, my dear,’she said, ‘that’s what the books tell you, but don’t you believe it. You can move anything if you do it carefully. Speaking of moving,’she went on, ‘I’m not sure I would n’t move that hedge. It seems to me it would be more effective if you set it back about three feet.’
‘Next year,’ I said, ‘I’m going to have a new hedge, a very tall one, made entirely of thorns.’