Down the street from where we live is an arid wasteland of a building site, stripped bare not only of the modest house that was once home to a pair of gentleman gardeners but also of the profusion of flowers, shrubs, even trees (the ultimate insult) that they had so carefully tended. There is nothing left but 20-foot mountains of dirt, a broken-down shed off in a brambly corner, whose survival may have been an oversight, and a waiting construction trailer.
The site has been like this since last summer. I’m sure I’m not the only one on the street who turns to look whenever I drive by, waiting for signs of movement even as I dread the colossus that is all too likely to follow.
When I say nothing is left, I mean nothing between the house and the old post-and-rail fence out front. If they’d torn the place down just a little sooner than they did, say in the month of March, they’d have noticed green blades coming up beyond that fence — on the grassy strip beween the fence and the road which, so far as I know, is rightfully town land but is viewed by many homeowners as part of their property — and probably smushed them, along with all the other growing things.
There ought to be a word for that strip. Right-of-way? Homeowners all over town appropriate it for their own uses, usually though not always to good effect. Forsythia is particularly popular; so is ivy and impatiens, planted around the street trees. But then there are the people who space big rocks a few feet apart on the grass, or stick sticks in the ground with lights on top that glow red at night. They may say they’re there to protect their fences from wayward cars, but I think what they’re really doing is marking their territory.
Anyway, those green blades beyond the onetime house with its falling-down fence are now daffodils. Hundreds at least, maybe 1,000, all sizes, all colors, yellow, white, yellow and white, yellow and orange, orange and red, red and white and apricot and pink. From March to May, for more than 100 running feet along the grass, daffodils bloom and fade and others come along, and they all just keep increasing every year.
For as long as I can remember, and we have lived on this same street for 45 years, those two men, both dead now, could be seen out front every autumn shoehorning new bulbs into the ground. They transformed that grassy strip into a springtime showstopper, and I know I was not the only neighbor who would purposely walk on that side of the street to gawk. Because of them I became something of a daffodil fanatic myself, sending off to Wisconsin or Oregon for unusual varieties, even once entering the Garden Club of Shelter Island’s biennial show.
Daffodils have been aptly called the self-cleaning ovens of the gardening world; with little or no care, they do what’s expected. They’re doing it again down the street this spring, but I am not, and that’s really what this is all about. I still walk over there most days, but now, instead of stopping and ogling and walking on, I cut a bunch of flowers and take them back home, or to work.
Is this stealing?
No one lives there anymore, and there are so many drifts of daffs that you couldn’t possibly tell the difference, and yet I find myself hoping no car will pass by and see me — catch me? — in the act. But why? The new owners, probably a corporation, clearly couldn’t care less about plants, and the plantsmen, given the situation, might actually approve. Or so I tell myself.
I was putting some really spectacular Albert Einsteins in a Tropicana juice container the other day when a neighbor — a woman whom I happen to know is a fervent proponent of private property rights — walked by on the other side of the street and shot me a dirty look. I stood up and went home, thinking that after all this was thievery, and the next day I asked someone at work about it.
“Would you go cut somebody else’s flowers, even if they didn’t even live there yet?”
“Of course not,” she replied, then paused. “Only if they were lilacs.”
Irene Silverman is The Star’s editor at large. She is at large at the moment in Amagansett.