Working in the Fall Garden

The garden was looking tired, Louise thought. Leaves drifted off trees, petals faded, noxious weeds gathered new life. Most of the upright flowers that had waved like brilliant banners throughout spring and summer had gone to seed. The stalks and dried leaves rustled pleasantly in the early autumn breeze but they looked like the skeletons of other times.

She would have to get some containers and save the seeds for next year. And of course she needed a healthy helping for Judy. Every summer since they had become friends over their toddler’s heads Judy had wandered around the garden, smelling, smiling, claiming that she needed this or that plant. Every spring, Louise provided her with seeds and starts, but more often then not, Judy forgot to plant or water or sprinkle. She seemed to think Louise had magic in her thumbs and soil.

Louise laughed and surveyed the beds. Time to get to work, she supposed. But she was so tired. Her son, Chris was home for who knew how long. Angry, hurt and sullen – his wife had given him the boot and the company he worked for had closed down a couple of weeks later. His wife had the house and the boys and Chris had nothing but his childhood home and mom to retreat to. Louise ached for him, had stayed up the last few nights listening to his anger and fear, becoming worn down with knowing she had nothing to offer.

But the weeds were growing unchecked. She’d feel better for some physical work to balance the emotions. Chris was plunked in her office firing off resumes that he said no one would read. When she suggested he go to the offices of the prospective employers, he had been impatient and irritated.

“It doesn’t work like that,” he told her. “They won’t talk to me.”

“It can’t hurt,” Louise persisted. He refused to answer and went back to the computer, leaving her feeling defeated and vaguely stupid.

Without the garden, she thought she would fall apart. She fetched a handful of small containers and began tipping seeds into them – pink poppies, purple poppies, red poppies, lupine, pinks, stocks…there seemed to be a theme in her flower choices, she thought with a chuckle. Old favorites rather than all new hybrids. Maybe she’d broadcast some of these seeds along the barren patches in the far back, or better still along the straggly verge of the road. They were survivors that somehow managed to grow and flower no matter what.

“Need help?” Chris stood behind her, hands shoved in his jeans pockets.

“Always,” she responded.

“When I was a kid,” he said picking up some snippers and going to work, “I thought the magic out here just happened.”

“Judy thinks that still.” They smiled over the small shared joke that had woven through the years.

“I dumped my pride,” he told her. “I’ve started emailing everyone I know, asking them to keep an eye out for a job – even entry level. It really sucks. I feel like I’m eighteen not thirty-eight. Judy got me my first job that way. Who knew?”

Louise nodded, trying to say nothing. She tipped more seeds into a container, but being distracted, realized she’d mixed them up. “This wasn’t what I planned,” she muttered.

“Me neither,” her son answered.

She held out the container. Black and brown seeds of different sizes lay like grains of sand. “I jumbled them all up – wasn’t paying attention.”

“I know how that goes.” 

Louise grimaced and continued pouring in seeds. “I guess next year will be a surprise.” Life in the garden was so often a surprise no matter how carefully she planned. Some bad, some good.

Chris got down on his hands and knees and began prying a persistent dandelion root from the soil. “I didn’t tell you I’m grateful for the help.” The words were clearly as hard for him to get out as the weeds from the soil.

Louise nodded. “It’ll work out.” She stared down at her crazy seed mixture and shrugged. “Sometimes just not the way you think – but it will work, somehow.”

“Hope so.” Chris finally got the last tap root free from the soil. He grinned and flourished it, “I win.”


Louise looked around again and pushed back a sigh. This time of year, everything looked so tattered. But it would come back again. It always came back. She just had to keep working away at it until the growing seasons aligned. With care, the flowers always came back.


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