“I’m just going to have to do this late tonight or very early tomorrow morning. Every time I try to sit down and write the dogs come and bark in my face. Like ‘what are you doing in here? Why aren’t you outside with us? It is beautiful out there!’”
Jock smiled at me and asked half jokingly, “You can’t take your computer outside and work?”
It is just so damn beautiful outside, it is hard to be indoors right now. Mother Nature is decked out with all the trimmings: She couldn’t put on a better show for us this year. I mean, how often are the azaleas actually at peak perfection during Azalea Festival? But everywhere is filled with beautiful color, greenery and … the dust of pollen. The sense of renewal pervades and permeates. Like a lot of residents, we are still addressing a variety of hurricane repairs. The most pressing and ongoing at home have involved securing the dogs. For the first time in memory, Jock seems to have decided to take up landscaping as a hobby.
He came home with three Confederate Jasmine plants to grow along the new fence. He is planting azaleas so fast, I am worried I am going to come home and find a young lady in an antebellum gown with a parasol standing in the front yard. It seems like every few years the Star News runs a story about the lack of azaleas getting planted in a city known for its Azalea Festival. I am just here to assuage fears: Jock is on the case and has turned into a one-man azalea propagation crew.
Just to put this in context: the backyard of our house continues to reforest itself so fast, we periodically have to go out there with a machete and a chain saw in order to locate the dogs. The front yard has a red-tip hedge of such lovely proportions, it almost spans the entire yard. It is part of Jock’s theory of horticulture known as “let nature be nature.” It is an attitude that has exacerbated various neighbors of the years but, to me, has always been emblematic of Jock. He lives the life of a mad scientist. Things important to him are not going to appear in Better Homes and Gardens. Training and taming nature to some sort of manicured perfection would be sadistic to his mind. Plants are living beings. He wouldn’t want anyone snipping at him and tying him with wire to things, so why would he do it to a plant?
So every year during Azalea Festival time, I tend to look on a bit askance. We don’t open the bookstore during the madness that is the parade and street fair. In all honesty, I don’t think I have attended an Azalea Festival event—concert, garden tour or party—in over a decade, maybe longer. It brings a tremendous amount of revenue into our area and lots of people downtown. But the pandemonium is more than our little bookstore is prepared for, so I start to feel a little lost in the spring celebration.
Think about it: Azalea Festival’s date, though chosen because of the flowers’ bloom time, is smack between the Spring Equinox and May Day (May 1), a traditional spring holiday. The equinox is always difficult for me. Intellectually, I understand the idea of perfect balance, but I have such an extreme personality that the solstices are more obvious and understandable. By May in ILM, it is pretty much summer. So the first few weeks of April are when I walk outside and find possibility of growth and renewal at every turn.
Now over in Literary Bed and Breakfast land, the garden has gone through a transformation that is nothing short of miraculous. That miracle has a name: Dagmar Cooley. The fenced-in backyard was so overgrown, when my parents bought the house in 1987, each day was like a treasure hunt discovering something new that had been hacked away with hedge clippers. My mother dreamt of landscaping and gardening; she drew up countless sketches of what she would like to do with the yard. Either she never had the time, the energy or money to follow through on the projects. The wisteria that kept trying to engulf and kill the trees and established bushes was enough of a battle.
Eventually, they hired someone to mow the lawn on a regular basis. After my father passed away, several people lived in the house and trying to get the lawn mowed became such an ordeal, I gave up on any hopes for long-term landscaping projects I had in mind: 14 of my blueberry bushes were killed, seedlings were abused and neglected, veggies let go to seed. It had a lot of potential but I didn’t help it flourish much. The garden has always been a key piece of the bed and breakfast. While the house was under renovation, I could give up immediate plans for it, but as we got closer to an opening date, it became apparent help was needed.
To put it simply, I couldn’t get any perspective on the possibility because I was so caught up in the immediate problem; over and over that has been my hindrance to growth. I get so caught up, I can’t see the big picture and move things forward. One of the great gifts of the last five years has been learning to let smart people around me be smart and do wonderful things. Or as Jock says to the volunteers at Full Belly Project: “Go forth and make me proud.”
Indeed, Dagmar and her cohorts have transformed the gardens from one of the most frustrating aspects of my life to sublime beauty. Rather than ripping out everything and starting with a blank slate, she heard how important the hand-grafted camellias are to me and how much I love the azaleas that are so big they reach the second floor and create a tunnel to the playhouse. Then, last week, Hilda showed me something special I have waited a long time for: the first strawberrys. I picked it and offered her half. She declined because an approaching bird necessitated her attention.
“Damn, this is lovely! Does it get any better than this?” John Wolfe asked rhetorically.
We were sitting on the glider swing, eating pizza after a game of life-sized chess, watching the dogs run around the backyard. Everywhere we could see was green and flowering.
No, it doesn’t.
When I get lost in the madness of Azalea Festival, with crowds and parties and concerts, I take a moment to dial it back and remember: This is actually what we should be celebrating—the return of spring, the promise and beauty of each new day before us and just how lucky we are we can share it with friends.