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Little Green Things

slipstream by Janett L. Grady

Okay, on the outskirts of Peoria, Illinois, little green things are growing in my sister Peg’s kitchen, and not in the back of the refrigerator where the leftovers live.

Hundreds of tiny seedlings are sprouting in peat pots set out on the counter. A plant light bathes these hopeful little curlicues of chlorophyll with hours of simulated sunlight. If you listen closely, you can hear the electric meter steadily ticking away my sister’s dollars.

Shortly after my arrival to visit with Peg, in a time drift between night and morning, I was drawn out of my room and into the kitchen by the smell of rain.

How can rain have a smell? Does the sunshine make a sound?

I was almost convinced I could hear “water me” whispers coming from the pots. It’s been said you should talk to your plants, and I think it might help plants grow, but when you can hear plants talking back I think you’ve got a problem

“Shush,” I said without thinking, and brewed myself a pot of coffee.

Peg walked in, joined me for coffee at the table. “My flowers are more than just pretty,” she said. “They talk. When the old man is on one of his buying trip, the flowers keep me company.”

How this happened, Peg is not exactly sure. In fact, she isn’t certain where all of them came from. They may have just appeared.

For years she resisted growing flowers on the theory that everything green was doomed to die in a few months anyway, making it pointless to become close personal friends with Mother Nature.

Apparently life seemed too short for puttering around a garden, vowing destruction upon all things weedy, and poring over fertilizer formulas.

Growing up in Chicago, all the gardeners we knew were forever chattering on about things like cutworms and compost. Besides, fooling around with flowers was something elderly women did, never a strong selling point for Peg.

If young ladies helped out in a flower garden, it was because they were being punished for something. Long before tough love took hold, digging weeds, planting flowers and spreading fertilizer adjusted the attitudes of wayward girls everywhere.

A few years ago, however, something strange occurred. Peg had a sudden urge to poke things in the ground to see what would happen. She plopped a few late-season pansies into some dirt and waited for them to die.

They survived. They thrived.

Emboldened by success, Peg added petunias. The next thing she knew, she was attending seminars on perennials and reading through seed catalogs.

The following year, pansies and petunias must have seemed a tad pedestrian. Peg found herself buying gardening magazines. Apparently, her study of glossy photographs of improbably lavish gardens convinced her that rock gardens were the perfect form of self-expression. Simple. Arrange a few rocks in the dirt, insert flowers and wait for a magazine to call for a photo shoot.

One fine afternoon last year, a young man pulled up to my sister’s house in a dump truck. Peg wrote a check for what the advertisement called “rich garden soil” and her husband called “the world’s most expensive dirt.”

Peg then spent hours driving around searching for rocks, and not just any old rocks, but rocks with character. She prowled through ditches and cruised through Peoria’s fancier neighborhoods wondering whether stealing stones from other people’s yards was a felony or a misdemeanor.

By the time she finished spreading dirt and shaping flower beds and organizing rocks, what she had was less like landscaping and more like land scraping. Still, by the end of summer, all kinds of flowers had draped themselves artfully over my sister’s rocks.

Of course she could no longer remember exactly what kind of flowers they were, but Peg has never been a girl who gets all bent out of shape on details. If it lives, fine. If it dies, it probably didn’t deserve to live. Darwinism at its finest.

Peg says she’s been worrying that her rock garden might have been her first step on the road to perdition. One day she had a few humble flowers, and before she realized it, she had gone all green thumb on her neighbors.

She’s been branding her stakes with monograms, spelling out her married name in zinnias and erecting tiki lamps around her patio. She’s been torching weeds with a flame thrower, using jujitsu on marauding mutts and becoming known as that dirty old lady to the little kids in her neighborhood.

So far, Peg has held the line on garden tools. It’s sufficient to own a shovel to use on fire-resistant weeds. And visitors, sisters or otherwise, will see no naked ladies, elves or cats in either statuary or topiary form in Peg’s garden.

She says balance is everything, which is why she’s not exactly sure what she’s going to do with the hundreds of little green things unfurling themselves in her kitchen. She says she’ll be stepping softly for a few more weeks before daring to risk their delicate constitutions in the great outdoors.

“Plants can’t talk,” I said, sipping coffee. “No matter what you do, they’re not going to be crying about it.”

“Well,” said Peg, “if you water them they won’t. But if you hang around here long enough, before I plant them outside, you’ll hear them.”

I really don’t know why, but I believed her and promised her I’d be listening.

Meanwhile, without a doubt, Peg is going to be out searching for more rocks. She says she’s trying to figure out how to make a singing waterfall work. She says that by the time she gets through with this year’s garden, the whole wide world can just kiss her Astilbe japonica.

Whatever that is.

Copyright 2010 by Janett L. Grady

Janett L. Grady lives in Alaska.

[Return to the April 2010 stories]

2 Responses

  1. […] Little Green Things […]

  2. I love this and can relate. I had a few years where I went over the edge. Budget constraints and a twelve step progam finally cured me.

    Good work Janett, your writing is smooth and punchy. I look forward to reading more of your work.

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