But, the rose garden was less in the mood to forgive. The bushes sat hunched together, entwined and unhappy, scratching out at each other and anyone and anything that got in their way. They had bloomed beautifully in early June but without me there all Summer to deadhead and cut off the suckers, to infuse the soil around their bases with fragrant wood chips from the lumberyard mixed with our grass clippings, they had been without nutrients and protection for their tender roots and had faltered in some places and overgrown in others.
I slipped on my dreaded garden gloves after it became very clear that yes, those roses were just fine about scratching me. Hard. I hummed to them as I worked, and then when I ran out out of Irish lullabies, I just spoke in my softest, sweetest voice.
I am so sorry. I didn't mean to neglect you. It was just...I was so ill and unable to tend to you. I AM sorry. Very sorry. And Liv wasn't here to help, she was in North Carolina on a dig with her Father. And you know Bing, she tries. But, well....okay...she TRIES...but she doesn't really know what you need and she is a poor listener when I try to explain. The good news is that the bugs didn't get you! The bad news is that yes, I see. Too much water. And you haven't been mulched properly so your roots are not happy. Again, I'm sorry. Please. Let me fix this. I can fix this!
And I tried. So very hard.I clipped and deadheaded until I had a garbage can nearly filled. I saved all the usable rose petals. They could go into my sachet bags that I make every year filled with lavender and lemon verbena. Rose petals are also good in bath salts. As I got down to the underbellies of the other roses, I had to swallow hard and admit that I had been wrong about bugs. I started seeing holes in some of the roses and then yes...a spider mite. I crushed it with my good fingers.
And then...no...an earwig. Several house crickets and what was THAT? I put the specimen in a bag to check online. I would find out that it was a hoplia beetle. I had never seen one before.
So, a trip inside to call Liv's Lakota grandmother, to ask how to deal with these bugs. She answered the phone immediately, as I knew she would. She always, always gets to the phone on the first ring and she only has her land line, so I have no idea how she seems to just know when a call is coming. Although she consented to a computer for the SOLE purpose, she said, of staying in touch with Tinton and Liv, she has refused a cell phone. Sheer nuisance, is what she called it. So, she had answers. I knew she would. I got right to business. Ina, as she likes me to call her, does not suffer fools or wordy people well. She doesn't do small talk. She calls me takuya, calls Liv takoja and Liv calls her kunsi.
"Ina," I told her, "I am having trouble with my rose bushes. They have bugs."
"What kind of bugs?"
"Spider mites, earwigs, house crickets and what looks to be a hoplia beetle."
There was a small silence. I could hear her thinking. She finally spoke with assurance, as she nearly always does.
"For the spider mites, crickets and beetles of all kinds, cut up rosemary and sprinkle all over. Do you have rosemary in your garden?"
Why, yes, I told her, I just happen to have LOTS of it.
"And for the earwigs, do this: open a can of tuna and make some tuna salad for a nice lunch. In the empty can, pour some beer. Take this out to the garden and lay it at the feet of the roses. The earwigs will fall into the can during the night. Empty it and refill until they're gone. Earwigs love beer and the smell of fish entices them to jump.
I thanked her and also told her that the tea that she sent me all Summer had hit the spot and had been helpful with the finger swelling. Cherry bark and juniper and also thanked her for the pillow filled with ash tree buds to rest my finger on. And said that yes, we had all received the moccasins that she had made for us and LOVED them.
"I got your thank you notes," she said. " I'm sorry that you had to give up your finger. Payment for a misdeed of your ancestors. Thanks to your offering, they can now proceed to the sky. Your handwriting hasn't suffered. I'm glad of that. You have such pretty handwriting. Dainty. My takoja needs to work on hers, though. Hers looks like a chicken scratched it out!"
We laughed. We talked very briefly about my garden and hers. About her visit with Tinton before he went back to teach in Colorado, how he puts so much money in her bank account every month that she didn't want for anything in her snug cabin. As I said, she is not talkative, nor am I, so it was stilted, but we both got through it. And she cared for me so lovingly all Summer with my finger troubles. So many did. I asked her which ancestor had
I went to the kitchen and gleefully emptied a tuna can and made some tuna salad and then texted Bing to bring home one bottle of beer for killing earwigs, please. She knows me, so no questions asked. Later, I would tiptoe out in the evening shade to deliver my gift to the earwigs. Sure enough, the day after there would be a can full of quite drunken earwigs for me to throw into the bag of lawn clippings to be hauled away. It would take four days, but on the fifth day, the can would be half empty and the sixth day, only one straggling earwig left.
The rose bushes are once again thriving, enjoying a soft blanket of mulchy oak shavings and the grass clippings from Bing's mowing, carefully tucked around their tender roots. They are bug free and pruned back so that they can stretch their thorny necks out without knocking into their sister branches. The white roses recovered first, followed in swift succession by the deep reds and pinks and lastly, the pale yellows began to recover.
Our moon flowers are at last blooming and suddenly, everywhere. Their soft green leaves are silent and tucked in during the day and then at night, seem to come to life before our eyes. One moment they are tender white curls swaying in the soft evening breeze and then....POOF...there they are big as my hand and letting their sweetness waft through the air, making us pause in front of the downstair's guest room as we pass. They intermingle with the calla lilies, so lovely in the moonlight that it makes me think of the supernatural. I half expect to see women in long flowing ball gowns waltzing through the yard with their Rhett Butler partners.
Liv and I have put our heads together, planning Bing's birthday dinner. Her birthday falls on Labor Day this year and she has requested what she always does for dinner: all vegetables and preferably, all from our garden. We've complied except for the corn (or as we prairie people call them: roastin' ears.) We'll cut thick slices of eggplant and lay them on the grill and then when they get just tender enough, lay slim slices of mozzarella cheese on top to melt prettily. We have some baby spinach leaves to make a salad and plenty of broccoli, carrots, and sugar peas to mix in. A small carafe filled with Dorothy Lynch dressing to drizzle over the top of it all.
Bing's Aunt from New Orleans has sent us her vegetarian kale soup recipe and I have all ingredients ready to throw in the crock pot to make a good hearty soup. I have the onions, potatoes, garlic, tomatoes and parsley that the recipe called for from my garden, but had to cheat and buy cannellini beans at the store. Otherwise, it's ALL natural from our produce.
There is one more jar of homemade pickles to bring up from the cellar. Liv and I have agreed to set aside September 12 as our day to harvest the garden and do all the canning and pickling of the garden, so there will be a few more jars to add to the cellar. Unfortunately, not enough to share with the neighbors and family this year; they'll have to make do with the rose petal, lemon verbena, lavender sachets and jars of pungent dried rosemary.
Lastly, instead of baking a cake, we have ordered one from one of the best bakeries in the world: Cupcake Island.
A vanilla almond cake with buttercream frosting.
I wish I had the words to describe how incredibly wonderful it feels to have my garden back. To slide my hands around in the soil and just breathe in the scent of my herbs, my vegetables, but most especially my flowers. My tender, difficult, persnickety roses.
Their lifeblood flows through my fingers and into my soul, quieting my angst, softening all of my hard edges and making me feel what my Da felt, what his Da felt and so on and so on. My Da always said that land means all to the Irish and he wasn't talking about owning it. You can't really own land. You bond with it, join your soul to it's soil and then something wonderful happens that can't be explained unless you are one of the tribe.
Today, there was a new visitor to our bird bath. Bing and I were sitting outside, drinking our morning coffee and she suddenly grew very still and whispered, "Look at the bird bath, darlin'. What kind of bird is that?" I looked and then stared and pondered but could not grasp a name. I toyed with taking its photo with my cell phone but was afraid to move for fear of startling it. It splashed around for several glorious seconds and then just as fast at it landed, it left.
Later, I found it on the internet.
A red beaked finch.
I feel as if I am coming back into my skin, my soul after a long Summer of being cooped up, chained up, stymied by pain. It's like I can't stop gulping this air.