The Garden and the Fall: A Non-Parable
Backyard reflections and regrets
By Ed Goldman
To honor one of my favorite foreign films, 1970’s “The Garden of the Finzi-Continis,” I’ve taken to calling my little backyard—which is a tad larger than the Forever Stamp that the U.S. Postal Service has been pushing forever—”The Garden of the Flimsy Cactini.”
This name also honors my green-around-the-gills thumb and what I managed to do in just eight or nine months to a harmless, initially robust Brittle Prickly Pear plant, sometimes called a “cactini” by disturbed greenhouse managers (and by columnists desperately seeking a dubious wordplay.
In some ways, my little garden seems larger than it is because its shrubs and wisteria are overgrown, its ground filled with fallen leaves and a frequent visitor here who’s very kind. She, who shall remain blameless, is the one who first told me my yard seemed like the cozy kind of patch you might find in an English garden—not even qualifying her assessment by adding, “After it’d been strafed by a German Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighter-bomber.”
I think of it as being more Italian, hence my name for it. What’s pleasant about it is that even though it’s small, it’s L-shaped—meaning it promises to yield a much larger view if you go past the exterior wall and turn the corner at the back of my garage. But it breaks that promise in about three feet, ending abruptly at my back gate.
Despite its thumbnail size, the garden allows me to have a couple of seating areas and outdoor sculptures. These include the image of a World War I pilot coming up out of a foxhole and, even better, a possibly Iranian vase as tall as I am which I bought at an estate sale about a decade ago.
This was when I still lived in a big house where it could reside in comfortable scale, indoors or outdoors. I should point out that the vase didn’t come from the estate of an ayatollah but rather of an accountant who had spent his retirement years frequenting other estate sales (and no doubt spreading the word the vase was Iranian—and, from what I’ve been told, possibly that he was an ayatollah).
I love the vase and was surprised when I bought it that the guy running the estate sale offered to deliver it for me. I told him I lived just about 10 houses down the block and he wasn’t deterred. He called for an assistant, whose physique dwarfed the vase. The assistant picked up the vase in what would have been a single nutcracking motion for me and asked where I lived. He followed me down the block and even toted it up my front steps. I asked if I could give him a tip for his efforts and he replied in a surprisingly high-pitched voice, “Yes, I really think you should.”
I don’t know what I’d expected—something like, “Thank you, sir, but we have a strict no-tipping policy at Estates ‘r’ Us” or whatever the business was called. All I had in my pocket was an ATM-fresh $20 bill and I debated asking the guy if he could break it. Then I realized how easily he could have broken me so I let it go. He seemed appreciative, I was gratified to see, or at least not an acolyte of Hannibal Lecter’s, which was even more gratifying.
As Fall settles in, my garden can use some trimming (as can I, and it’s lovely of you to not mention it). Some sort of mossy plant hangs over the garden’s footprint which, when it drips from a recent rainstorm, makes the place seem less English than Southern Gothic. Think “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” but leave out Kevin Spacey. That film was already creepy enough.
When I sell my place, I’ll miss my little garden. Well, I suppose we’ve all been missing a little garden since time began.
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