Celia Landsporth Kenedy (“. . . no, no, no . . . no relation . . . one ‘n’ ”), her children launched and all three married and fecund so that Celia was busy with advice vaguely specific and presents, usually money, that were quite on target, and having buried her husband, Mike, has about her only Gumption, her sweet old Labrador, who she adored, and her incredibly neat garden, which she detested. “If it were a hairdo, not a strand would be out of place,” she sniffed.
A very, very perfect lawn which cost a very great deal from a very exclusive lawn care company (our custom may be small, but our attention is huge), whose monthly bills (even in winter) were like museum reports on the status of some ancient cuneiform, viz: “A certain dryness has been noticed in the last few inches of the ribbon-plat path which seems compromised by seedling vetch and, under certain lights, the symptoms of algaic erosives . . . yet the overall hue of the central section remains decipherably virid despite all the visitors and their trammels. . . .”
“My friends do not trammel!” she wrote back, not quite knowing what she meant but very much against what she thought the word implied.
Celia’s well-tended garden (hounded, might be a better word) held a polite rose arbor well pruned and well painted, and a little koi pond this side of dainty, and a bit of an herb patch this side of awfully sweet, an obligatory brick terrace with a pot or two of whatever annuals were the hit of the season, and that was basically that, all of which gave Celia the megrims. “I can’t breathe!” she moaned.
While she stalled, her friends were quite energetic. Letty (Letitia) Laramay, who was known to be a bit wild, having studied belly dancing in order to improve her posture and the first to cook with lemongrass, turned her patch over to over 50 varieties of moss but didn’t let anyone walk anywhere and kept you admiring from the terrace. Stuart Lawless (who was most definitely wicked) extended his generally louche behavior to his yard and encouraged all sorts of native this and native that to grow, claiming the aggregation to be reclamation on a small scale of our vast and disappearing national heritage and received stern warnings from the town authorities who knew kempt from unkempt, a weed from a desirable, and suggested that he either uproot the lot or mow to a whisper of the soil’s surface and keep it so.
Stuart adjoined Elisabeth (Bittsy) Snare, who turned her attention to the edible and planted summer beans through her roses, parsley as a border hedge. Tomatoes clambered on her dahlias (a combination unexpectedly quite pleasing), garlic was where petunias once trembled, yard-long beans wound through the wisteria, and most of the lawn was turned to salad greens. Her pumpkin vines sprawled on the sidewalk and had to be restrained daily.
Luther Armatrix, recently retired form swallowing companies here and abroad, sometimes two a day, sought peace with a fairly genuine Zen contemplative garden, importing a crew from Japan to build tea house, bridge, moon gate, pond, plank path, with great river-smoothed stones and ancient, pruned pines. He married the little girl who did the tea ceremony each afternoon and now is ever out of his kimono.
Various other friends of Celia had all-white or all-blue gardens, xerotypic gardens (awfully hard to pull off in the rainy Northeast), gardens of nothing but shrubs, gardens of only annuals, of the most delicate tropicals, orchid gardens . . . and then there was topiary, fruit trees pollarded, trellised, fanned, laddered, trained to one, one only, branchless trunk and, of course, in little barrels like Fu dogs and reminiscent of the bound-foot niceties of Old China.
Somehow, Celia began to feel a bit more friendly toward her garden. Gumption, after all, liked it and she adored Gumption.