I remember my father tilling the soil around our suburban home in Maplewood, New Jersey with and old iron pitchfork left behind by the original owner of the house, Mr. Stanger. Mr. Stanger left a lot of things behind in the garage, attic and basement of our home. Most of the items in the garage were related to gardening. I loved these old tools and was thrilled when my father let me use them. The soil had a clean refreshing scent when it was turned over each year. I liked to play outside when my father did the aerating chore.
Each Spring I’d accompany my Dad on his excursion to Pearson’s Mill for young plants. When the tulips died back we’d plant our marigolds. Each year I begged him to change up his plantings, but my pleas were futile.
“Marigolds look good all summer long,” he said. “There’s no need for anything else.”
I would look longingly at the purple and red annuals, the pictures on the packages of the lily bulbs and iris rhizomes. We planted tomatoes and peppers in the back yard and it was my job to check for the ripe vegetables. I knew that one day when I had my own garden I would plant more of a variety of flowers. My father’s choices were safe and reliable, and the yard always looked manicured, cared for, and very suburban. I had an idea of a colorful and unpredicatable garden. I also imagined that my own house would be painted every color of the rainbow. A different color for every slat.
My urge to bury bulbs in the ground returned when I left Manhattan for Montclair, New Jersey. I was renting an apartment inside an old Victorian house that was divided into four units. While I was only a renter, I longed to do something with the neglected garden beds outside #22, and one day asked the superintendent if I could do just that. “Sure, we don’t mind.” I could sense they thought my request was queer.
At the hardware store that autumn, I bought daffodils, crocus and tulips. Excited and energized, I brought them to the front iron staircase where I imagined them blooming the following Spring. It was then I realized I didn’t prepare properly; I didn’t own any gardening tools to dig through the rocky clay soil. With no extra cash to go back to the hardware store for a shovel and spade, I figured I could find something in my apartment that would suffice, and I did. The kitchen drawer housed pasta spoons and large salad forks, and I used these to dig my very first garden bed in front of the dark green Victorian house. The utensils were ruined by this endeavor but I didn’t mind. The following Spring I was rewarded with beautiful blooms greeting me at the doorstep. I drove past #22 years later and as I glanced at the house I used to rent I couldn’t help but notice the bulbs in full bloom. I noticed another tenant took it upon herself to plant a few flowering trees on the property and another little garden. I hope she had a spade to help dig through the rocky soil.