Friday, July 31, 2009

Buck's (More) Beautiful

     The reader may recall from Junes’ Toonmoose blog, that the Milford Historical Society’s garden tour, in which we were invited to participate, was canceled for this year. What the June blog did not point out, was that for the second time, we would be participating in the annual Bucks’ Beautiful summer garden competition, in which we were awarded second place in the combination flower/vegetable garden category last year. Anticipating the work involved, I delayed entering until the last minute. Then, when Debbie Hays of the Central Buck’s Chamber of Commerce wrote to inform us of the garden judging schedule, the pressure was on.
So began what seemed like months (it was actually a few weeks) of frenzied scrambling around in the dirt, in positions only a yogi master could identify. It is a wonder that my poor fingers, crimped up from days of wrestling the roots of noxious weeds from the ground, can take pen to paper!
     As with so many things, J led the way, often appearing in the garden before seven AM, outfitted with straw hat, rubber-coated, stretch gloves, a foam knee-pad and his favorite gardening tool, a wooden-handled “claw” bought at a flea market for fifty cents. “Crocs” for our feet, of course. Jeans, that started the summer with mild wear at the knee, would, in the coming days develop gaping holes, surrounding our exposed kneecaps with heavy, fringe-like dangling strings. Which brings up the question, “What is your favorite “garden-get-up?” The first five responders to send a photograph of themselves in full gardening regalia will receive a free “Toonmoose” garden” treat.
     Jasper, our Irish Terrier, monitored our progress from the shade. A “trug” was ever at the ready, to cart away the seemingly endless number of bags of weeds that will, in time, become compost. We could hardly be blamed for identifying with the proverbial “prisoners, “ digging their way to freedom! Of course, at the beginning, a task like this – preparing a garden for judging – seems hopeless, given that for weeks, the weeds have run riot over ones intended plantings. Even so, one begins the campaign, waged one root at a time. Bit by bit, leaf by leaf, we made progress, editing out the weeds and giving definition to our desired plantings. Without getting into the “zen” of weeding, suffice it to say that we each developed a true relationship with the soil, what the French would call the “terroir.” In these days, the garden became the focus of our shared obsession. Simply put, we wanted the garden to look it’s “personal best,” independently of how any judge might assess it. That said, having been awarded Second place in last years Buck’s Beautiful competition, we felt a certain challenge to improve on our presentation. But, would we do enough? All of our efforts built to a crescendo in the week leading up to Friday, July 17, when the judges were scheduled to appear between 9AM and 2PM. Counting back the time required to accomplish our tasks, we identified a list of goals and set about accomplishing them, often working from sun up until the lightning bugs began to flicker. In one radical stroke, J ripped out a bed of Hollyhocks in the side-yard, beneath the kitchen window. He realized that the appeal of their blossoms would be overshadowed by the ugly “rust” attacking their leaves, and with a few deft strokes – chop, chop, chop – they were history. He was careful to gather the fallen leaves to minimize the presence of the disease in the soil. Where those plants had been, we now introduced a bench, creating a new seating spot in the “orchard” with potted oleanders , one red, and one white, on either side.
     Only the worst of the midday heat drove us inside, and then only to fuel up for more weeding. The day of the judging, after a fitful nights’ rest, which I interrupted to make a pitcher of fresh lemonade for the judges, I arose before five AM. It would become a sunny, hot day, but first, there was one more list of things to do, that I was convinced would help define the atmosphere of the space: the sphinxes needed to be put in place, astride the walk, but only after the sun had dried the morning dew from the grass. A weighted string needed to be dropped from the sleeping porch to the ground for the morning glories to be trained upon. What seemed like another mile of the walk still needed to be edged, by hand-ripping out the overgrown grass. The rabbit-guard fencing needed to be opened, to give the judges access to the “potager.” Lastly, I had the recommended balloons to tie in front of the house, to identify the location for the judges, and a “Garden Open Today” sign to tack to the front gate.
Last year, the judges began their rounds at our house, arriving shortly after 9 AM. This year, when first 9:30, then 9:45 passed and no judges had arrived, I became concerned. Were they lost? Not likely in the age of GPS. For another two hours, till 11:40, J and I paced about the garden, pulling a weed here, deadheading a spent blossom, there. I tried to do the Times crossword, but found myself unable to concentrate. An encounter with a baby Praying Mantis, my first such sighting of the season, I took as a good omen. Considering that we had begun this garden just four years earlier, from scratch, we felt good about what we had achieved. We just hoped the judges would appreciate our efforts.
I was inside when the judges’ car pulled up in front of our house, unmistakable with its “LUV2PLNT
license plate. Two ladies got out, clipboards in hand, and again, for the second time in two years, I was amazed that neither of these ladies was wearing a hat! On a bright, sunny day, when one planned to be outside, weren’t they required? Apparently not. I went out to welcome the judges, and to thank them for coming to visit the “potager” at Penrose Bungalow, “an American garden, reflecting a world of ideas.” I was eager to provide some context for the garden, but soon realized that, if we had done our work, the garden would do that for itself. I pointed out the orchard, the “potager,” the herb garden, asparagus and flower beds. I informed the judges of the presence of the honey bees, lest one of them be allergic, then left them to experience the garden for themselves. About this time, J appeared, bearing a tray with the pitcher of lemonade and ice-filled glasses; a refreshing treat that the judges and I appreciated. In twenty minutes time, it was all over.
Then, the waiting began. After such intense focus on our gardening chores, it was a struggle to redirect our energies. It had become “second nature” to start the day with a trowel in hand. In fact, after a brief respite, we reverted to our “old habits,” beginning and ending the day in the garden, though at a more relaxed pace.
This week, ten days later, the judges decision arrived in the mail. Below, you can read the results for yourself. My personal favorite quote comes from judge Estee Franks, who wrote “the passion is evident!”

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