by Nancy Strout Porter
I’m sitting at the round cast iron table in my garden, writing amidst my beautiful flower babies. I call them babies because they depend on me like a mama. Lately, though, I fear I’ve become more like a prison bitch to them than a mom, especially the snarky petunias who top-dog me with their constant need for water and deadheading. I do it, not only out of love, but also because I think they might hurt me when I’m sleeping if I don’t keep up. There are plenty of things laying around the garden that could be used as a shiv. My petunias are temperamental. And I can be just a tad codependent.
A citronella candle burns, wafting toxicity that I hope is only effective on insects because the breeze keeps blowing whiffs into my lungs. I hope I won’t need my inhaler for this garden paradise writing stint. I will add it to my arsenal just in case. Next to the candle sits a can of Off with which I have drenched myself. I make a mental note to pick up some all natural bug spray at the farmer’s market, or better yet, search Amazon for a stylish beekeeping suit.
Twice this summer, while basking in my garden of Eden, a certain, yet undetermined species of bug, bit me, causing an allergic reaction that has made these vigilant bug repellant precautions necessary. The violation started off like an ordinary bug bite, then, within minutes, the welt reddened, swelled like elephantitis and burned with the rage of white lightning. The folks at Urgent Care pumped me with antibiotics and steroids before sending me back out into the world to battle my new insect enemy.
As I pen my thoughts in my garden utopia, constantly checking the status of the bug brigade and ignoring the passive aggressive throat clearing of the petunias, I feel the first droplets of rain prompting me to pack up. I’m happy to let Mother Nature take over the watering, but I know I’ll have to answer to the petunia gang if more dead heads sprout before I get back after the storm.
On my way to the house, a glance at my tomato plants reminds me of their unfortunate recent diagnosis—blossom bottom rot — a calcium deficiency requiring a supplemental watering of a diluted milk solution—one cup water, one cup milk. Their first treatment is scheduled for today. I feel like an unfit parent for neglecting their calcium needs—for not knowing tomatoes have calcium needs—and naive for presuming a diet of water, sun and Miracle Grow would suffice. My mind begins to reel. I hope I made the right decision purchasing whole milk for this recipe. Maybe I should have gone with skim. Do tomatoes have to worry about cholesterol? Should I heat it first and test the temperature on my wrist before feeding them?
The petunias will not like this extra attention paid to the tomatoes and I don’t want to create a rival gang situation. But what choice do I have? I’ve always gotten along well with tomatoes, but everyone knows they can be real assholes if you cross them. Plus, there’s nothing like a crisp tomato sandwich on a hot August day.
I consider wearing a disguise when administering the milky medicine.
Back in the house, I settle at my writing desk, still reeking of Off and citronella. My eyes take a virtual tour out the window, beyond the arbor and into the garden. I smile at the life I have tended—radiant pinks, yellows and reds spilling from pots. Butterflies and birds brave the afternoon shower for sips of nectar. Even the petunias seem benign from this vantage point. I think maybe I’ve been an okay flower mom after all, and begin to feel more like a parent again, less like an inmate.
I consider the cost of paradise as I head to the kitchen to fix a bottle for my tomatoes. I don’t stop to close the blinds or put on a disguise. It’s time to step up and show the petunias some tough love.