When Fran and I settled into this century-old house in Saint Paul, twenty-five years ago, there was nothing planted in the yard except grass. I mean no bush, no flower, no tree except the boulevard ash. Nothing to soften the angular blockiness of the house.
I wasn’t a gardener then. In my first marriage, the husband did it all, and I raised the child. But this was a second marriage, with a man who befriended all kinds of people, loved cats, good company, books, games, but turned rather a blind eye to “nature.” He did not, on purpose, get his hands dirty or his feet wet.
Something compelled me. I began to plant: silver maples in the back yard, shoots from the Arbor Day Foundation of spruce and white pine, a Russian Olive and Honey Locust in the postage-stamp front yard. Lilacs beside the porch, and against the western fence in the back, a flowing crab apple tree.
It began straight as an arrow, probably ten feet tall. Over the fence in the adjacent yard, it could spy a full-grown cousin that bloomed in snowy scented array, an old tree with thick trunk and branches. Several years into our life together, my shoot of a tree had to watch that old cousin be hacked to death by a young man in frenzied control of a buzz saw.
There was one consolation: with the shade from that cousin gone, my tree grew fast, soon over-topping the board fence and draping its snowy blossoms into the adjacent driveway. By then the frenzied chopper had decamped, and after the house next door passed quickly through several hands, a young gardener bought it and began her own project of beautification.
Her style is quite different from mine. Whereas I mulch with every leaf I can collect, she scrapes up all fallen leaves and bags them. Whereas I let my grass revert to whatever will come up–creeping charlie, Virginia waterleaf (misnamed–it should be Minnesota waterleaf), along with huge bunches of white violets–she maintains a nice sward of regularly bladed grass and tidy flowering borders. I don’t exactly want a forest primaeval, but I like a wild, “lived-in” look. Yet, there are fences between our front and back yards. We manage to restrain our variety to the edge of her driveway.
That is, except for the flowering crab. About five years ago, she planted her own crab apple shoot in her backyard, almost exactly where the old tree had been hacked to pieces. Thus my crab was given a younger cousin, who has grown into a lovely, columnar shape. When I stand at the kitchen window, my face tilted toward the setting sun, the blowsy blossoms of my old crab seem to touch the thin, green-white blade of its younger attendant. This view is exquisitely beautiful:, though a visual illusion. Actually there’s a driveway between them.
What is it, this year, that lets the flowers of my tree linger, porcelain-white cups against grey skies, or pale flames jouncing in the wind? Its wide-spread branches carry its easy burden like a child whose arms are full of lace. Then again, its hair, done-up in wide wings, belongs to an old dame, the guardian of the neighborhood.I hold my breath and ceremoniously bow to its beauty, knowing it is transitory. Soon green leaves will push away the flowers, its virginal beauty transformed into another season of green and fruit.