The Dying Garden
by Vivian I. Zumstein
Ah, a moment of peace. The kids just left on the school bus. I sit on my patio, my hands wrapped around a steaming mug of coffee. Only the twittering of birds interrupts the quiet. As I sip, I scan my garden. Only weeks ago it radiated color and beauty, reflecting the hours I spent on my knees with my hands thrust into dirt. Id be ashamed for anyone to see it now.
The change of seasons hangs over it. Even the tree leaves, once so vivid, present despondent hues. Green, yet not green; tones of brown and grey distort the color. The shade may turn up in the biggest boxes of Crayola crayons. A child might choose it to color lichen clinging to a rock. But a tree? Never! Strange that this pathetic tone should presage leaves emerging in their fall finery for one last, wild fling.
The garden itself appears confused. Perennials mimic the trees to an extreme. Only patches of green remain in their curled, brown-mottled leaves. The stems, once straight and tall, topped with white Shasta daisies and yellow black-eyed Susans, thrust up at odd angles like scrawny bones from the fading foliage. Dried knobs of compact black seeds cap the stems. A flower graveyard.
During the summer, I clipped fading blossoms every week to encourage new flowers. I should fetch the clippers now to cut back these sad remains, but somehow I dont. Whats the point? No new blooms are forthcoming. Only one lone, foolhardy sprig of black-eyed Susans punctuates the perennials.
The annuals surprise me. The border of vincas continues to bloom pink, white and fuchsia. After struggling through the wet summer, my impatiens have rebounded. They fill the flowerbed beside me with splashes of red and white. A rogue impatien displays pink blossoms from the spot it colonized in an unoccupied pot. I know the impatiens will keep blooming in blissful ignorance until the first hard frost reduces them overnight into gelatinous slime.
Not all the annuals look good. In summer, desert rose portulacas tumbled over the edges of three wooden tubs in a riot of intense color: reds, yellows, fuchsias, pinks, lilacs, and oranges, all glowing as if fluorescent. I smiled every time I looked at them. Now they appear solemn. I notice a scattering of bright blossoms, but most buds stay furled. The sunlight is no longer strong enough to coax the flowers forth. Of all the annuals in my garden, only the portulacas sense winters approach.
I view with chagrin the four potted hibiscus plants edging the patio. Last year, I let them overwinter in my basement. Back outside in May, they burst forth in gorgeous, lush foliage. I waited in rapt anticipation for their showy flowers. Only one plant displayed its gratitude with a steady supply of huge, orange blossoms.
The other three ungrateful wretches continued to grow new, healthy leaves, but not a single flower. In August I dosed them with a potent fertilizer and leveled a death threat. Any plant that refused to deliver would be left outside this winter. Two of the plants sit bedecked in color. I scrutinize the last recalcitrant hibiscus. One tiny bud tops its foliage, earning it a temporary stay of execution.
I sigh. Why do I feel sad? I enjoy fall. I love the crisp mornings, the warmth of a sweatshirt and the tapestry of colors to come. Why do I let my garden linger in this limbo? I should be clipping and culling. Perhaps, like my blooming annuals, I want to hang on to summer just a bit longer. I know the first frost will force my hand. I can clean up the dead and dying later. Until then, I marvel at the tenacity of my annuals while I sit and sip my coffee.