When it came to finding something to fill the empty space between the neighbors’ yard and the Smythes’, Mrs. Smythe had thought she would have several months to decide. She had expected to converse with her neighbors at intervals over the coming fall and winter, and then, in the spring, everyone would gather to decide what ought to be planted.
But that is not what happened after all. What happened was the man of the house next door popped over one Saturday afternoon to say that he had been pricing arborvitae and how would the Smythes feel about a hedge of those between the two yards?
Mrs. Smythe did not think she would like a hedge of arborvitae at all – for no other reason than she simply did not like arborvitae. Mrs. Smythe had hoped to plant something that would bloom.
But Mrs. Smythe did not have the courage to come out and say this. She made Mr. Smythe go next door and say it for her as soon as they’d finished lunch.
And the man next door was very kind about the whole thing. He agreed to let the wives decide what to plant.
Mrs. Smythe met with the woman next door, and they decided to use several lilacs from the Smythes’ back yard for one portion of the space, and for the other portion – the portion nearest the two homes – Mrs. Smythe could choose.
Mrs. Smythe, giddy with the power of choosing, went out and bought several flowering shrubs from an assortment she found on sale in front of a grocery store later that evening: a rose-of-sharon, a hydrangea, and a pink weigela. Mrs. Smythe thought that they would do very nicely, indeed.
The next day, Mrs. Smythe began her planting. She had never been so nervous planting anything in her life. Mrs. Smythe realized she would be working just feet from her neighbors’ driveway, all her labor easily observed from their kitchen window. Mrs. Smythe suddenly began to wonder if she planted things the right way. She’d never really thought about it before…but then no one had ever been watching her dig before, either.
And then, too, Mrs. Smythe would be planting these shrubs amidst a sea of pachysandra. She didn’t want to damage the pachysandra any more than necessary. Her neighbors liked the pachysandra. (They had said so on several occasions.) But it is hard to avoid damaging pachysandra when you are walking on it and digging in it for the greater part of an afternoon. Still, Mrs. Smythe tried.
Her progress was slow. The space had recently held trees, and there were roots to chop through, and rocks to remove, and always the pachysandra snaking around her shovel. But the soil looked good and rich, and this encouraged Mrs. Smythe.
She had been thinking more and more of the fact that she had bought the shrubs at a grocery store. In the harsh light of day, they looked a little rough around the edges – the hydrangea seemed spindly, the weigela lopsided, the rose-of-sharon a tinge too yellow. Mrs. Smythe wanted the shrubs to flourish. She wanted them to do well, not only for their own sakes, but because she had been the one to choose them. The neighbors would be looking at these shrubs every time they left their house. If the shrubs had been going anywhere less public, Mrs. Smythe wouldn’t have been so concerned.
And maybe all of this nervousness did something to Mrs. Smythe’s ability to judge distances. Or maybe Mrs. Smythe just didn’t stop to think. Whatever the reason, by the time the holes were filled and the shrubs watered, Mrs. Smythe had begun to suspect she had planted things too closely together.
Mrs. Smythe was contemplating this when the woman next door popped out on her way to run errands. She paused long enough to ask Mrs. Smythe how the planting was going, and as they spoke, both women naturally turned to look at the shrubs. All Mrs. Smythe could think of at that moment (though she spoke smoothly of daylight hours and bloom seasons) was, “Egad! What have I done?”
If her neighbor was thinking something similar, she refrained from saying so. Instead, she got into her car and drove off on her errands, leaving Mrs. Smythe to contemplate the crowded shrubs and what might be done about them.
Mrs. Smythe quickly turned to her copy of The Shrubbery Lover’s Planting and Care Guide. She found the pages where her shrubs were listed and checked the suggested planting distances. She read the little tags that had come with each of the plants. Then she picked up her tape measure and measured again. The book and the tags and the tape measure all agreed. She was within the suggested bounds.
But everything still looked too close.
Mrs. Smythe tried to imagine the shrubs at their full breadth. She looked around to see what everyone else’s shrubs were doing. She re-checked her planting guide. Yes, the measurements were correct. But, try as she might, Mrs. Smythe could not reconcile herself to the spacing.
There was nothing to be done at that point, though. Ginger had to be driven to gymnastics practice, and Mrs. Smythe had to at least wash her hands and face before taking her. All the way to the gym, though, Mrs. Smythe searched yard after yard, hoping to see examples of closely spaced ornamental shrubs flourishing despite tight quarters.
No such example appeared.
What Mrs. Smythe did see were shrubs in wide open spaces or shrubs that had overgrown their projected dimensions. The hydrangeas she saw were as tall as herself. The roses-of-sharon all looked like trees. Things grew lustily in Western Massachusetts, and that fact, alone, removed any hope Mrs. Smythe had for the success of her own densely packed shrubbery.
When Mr. Smythe got home that evening, she dragged him into the side yard (though is was already dark) and, by the faint glow of the porch light, asked him to tell her if he thought she’d spaced the shrubs correctly.
Mr. Smythe looked at the shrubs for two seconds and said,”No.”
Mrs. Smythe knew he was right, but she argued that she had maintained the distances put forth in the The Shrubbery Lover’s guide and on the tags that had come with the plants.
Mr. Smythe shrugged and said he’d given his honest opinion.
How much more space did he think they needed? Mrs. Smythe asked, trying not to sound defensive.
Mr. Smythe sighed (gardening really wasn’t his area) and suggested “two feet.”
And that settled it, because that was exactly the distance Mrs. Smythe had been thinking, herself. She followed Mr. Smythe back into the house, turned off the porch light, and tried not to think anymore about the shrubs. She especially tried not to think about them while she was falling asleep that night. She was going to have to dig two more holes, and they would have to be dug publicly. She would, in essence, be announcing to her neighbors, “I planted these shrubs all wrong. I am now going to dig them up, move them two feet, and plant them all over again. But don’t worry, I know what I’m doing.”
Mrs. Smythe wondered if they wished they’d gone with the arborvitae after all.
Nevertheless, Mrs. Smythe rolled the wheelbarrow out to the side yard after lunch the next day, donned her gardening gloves (which now had two holes from the previous day’s digging), and grabbed the shovel from the shed.
She managed the job rather quickly this time, punching two neat holes in the pachysandra, then using what she’d dug up to plug the holes that remained when she lifted the shrubs out of the ground. In the end, the pachysandra looked a bit bedraggled from all of her stomping and shifting, but that was all.
Mrs. Smythe watered the shrubs and stepped back to survey her work. Much better. All three bushes would have plenty of room to grow now. They would not merge into a tangled mess in the coming years. There would be no excessive pruning in their futures.
Mrs. Smythe, glad the ordeal was over (and that her neighbors appeared to be out for the afternoon), began to gather her garden things.
But then she paused. She squinted at the shrubs one more time. Was the hydrangea too close to the neighbor’s driveway now? And what about on the other side? Were the gaps too large? Would she regret leaving so much space between the weigela and the rose-of-sharon? What if the shrubs didn’t grow as she hoped? What if that empty space yawned between them for years and years to come? Mrs. Smythe felt the beginnings of panic rising within her.
And then she realized how ridiculous it would look if she dug the shrubs up yet again. After all, gardening wasn’t like moving furniture. There was more to it than sliding something back and forth across the yard. It took a lot of energy to dig a hole – at least if you were going to do a proper job of it (as The Shrubbery Lover’s guide urged everyone to do).
Mrs. Smythe took a deep breath and allowed the panic to dissipate. There would be no more moving of the shrubs – no matter what the spacing! She was done. If she absolutely must dig a hole, there were always the hostas in the front bed to shift. Otherwise, it was time to put away the shovel.
And having decided that, Mrs. Smythe went inside to make herself a cup of tea.
Posted by mrssmythe on September 7, 2013 in Garden
Posted by mrssmythe on September 3, 2013 in Garden
When I mentioned lilac bushes a few posts back, it triggered something in my mind. I remembered, with a start, that I had planted lilacs along the side yard earlier this year. I realized, too, (again with a start) that I hadn’t seen those particular lilacs for months. What had happened to them? Poor lilacs […]