THE GARDEN BY THE FENCE

The Last Plant, by Rich Paschall


Every spring and summer for many years, decades in fact, Mr. Jardin had spent weekday evenings and all day Saturday or Sunday tending to his yard and garden.  With such a large area to manage, Mr. Jardin found the work to be a full-time job, in addition to his full-time job.

The yard was bigger than most in the area and there was a long garden down one side with a vast variety of plants.  Along the other side ran a sidewalk, but Mr. Jardin found just enough room between the walk and the neighbor’s fence for a row of lilies of the valley.  The flowers did not last long, but the large green leaves were there all season.

Beyond the back fence near to the alley was a cement slab where Mr. Jardin often parked his car.  Along a fence on the side of his cement parking space, and all the way to his back fence, were more flowers and plants that needed attention.  As the years went on, the gardener had to choose which sections to work each week.  The idea of working from one end to another in one day was no longer possible.  He was slowing down, and he knew it.

This particular year, Mr. Jardin could be found near the back fence every evening after work and often on weekends too.  He could never seem to get everything under control, so each day he took his carrying case with the garden tools and a plastic bag for the weeds that were pulled or plants that were trimmed and headed to the same spots.  Sometimes he brought a little garden bench with him.  It was the kind you could turn over and kneel on.  When turned over, you could use the legs on either side to help get up.  Mr. Jardin needed that some days.

Most evenings this season a woman came walking down the alley and passed by Mr. Jardin’s garden.  Sometimes she was carrying plants, sometimes a shopping bag.  If she caught the attention of the gardener by the alley, she would smile and nod and continue on her way.  It seemed odd that she would come down the alley as it could not possibly be a short cut from anywhere.  The gardener did not give it much of a thought.  He was focused on the flowers and plants, weeds and grass.

One day, the alley lady stopped and watched Mr. Jardin at work.  When he finally noticed her she complemented him on all the nice flowers.  He smiled and nodded politely and she was off to wherever the alley lady goes.  For the next few days, the woman found a comment to make about the flowers as she passed and Mr. Jardin always expressed his thanks.

Then one warm evening in early summer, the alley woman stopped as usual and when she got the gardener’s attention, she said, “My name is Mary, by the way.  Actually Marylou, but I never liked that.  You can just call me Mary.”  The gardener’s had a big smile in return for her.  She was an ordinary looking woman, much younger than Mr. Jardin but still middle-aged, so he thought it interesting that she would want to have a conversation with him.  She wore a wide-brimmed hat that would seem perfect for summer gardening.  Her long brown hair was tucked up inside.

“I’m Mr. Jardin,” stated the amateur garden master.  Seeing her disappointment at a formal introduction, he quickly added, “Roger Jardin.  I guess you can just call me Roger.”  He was not much for socializing, so even at his age he was not comfortable with introductions and conversation.

For the next few nights Mary stopped to talk to Roger on her way from wherever it was that led her to the alley, and Roger always made a little time in his important weed pulling duties to say a few words.  Then Mary surprised Roger with an invitation.  “Perhaps you would like to come over for dinner some evening,” she stated with an inviting smile.

“Oh, uh…why?” a confused Roger replied.  Mary laughed a little.

“Well, because I thought you might be hungry enough some evening to come over.  You can not work out here every night.”  Roger actually thought he could work out there every evening until it was too dark, unless the rains came.  The alley pair decided on a date in two days because rain was predicted.  Mary explained she lived around the corner in an apartment building. They made a date.

Roger was right on time.  The two had a pleasant dinner and a nice chat.  “That must be a lot of work, planting all of those flowers,” Mary commented.  Her interest in the garden pleased Roger.

“I do not actually plant anything anymore, except for one tomato plant near to the house.  The others are perennials or volunteers.”

“Volunteers?” Mary was unclear what Roger meant.

“There are flowers that come up because of seeds dropped by last year’s flowers.  It is almost as if they were perennials.  Other seeds might come on the wind or from the birds.  I don’t plant.  I just pull.”

Mary stopped by the alley often in the weeks that followed to comment on the hard work of the garden, and Roger always smiled and said nice things to Mary in return.

One day Mary walked by and found Roger lying in the garden.  She called out his name, but there was no response.  She went right up to him to him and called out loudly, “Roger!” but there still was no response.  She poked at him, but he was lifeless.  She shook her head and said to herself, “I knew he was working too hard, especially for a man of his age.”

At that she picked one of the long-stemmed yellow flowers she had admired so much, turned around, and headed home.

13 thoughts on “THE GARDEN BY THE FENCE

  1. He really sounds like my kind of gardener. I don’t have any formal garden flowers anymore. Everything is wild or slightly wild. All my lilies were taken from the woods and the roses are runners from hedges. Everything has planted itself. But I am not dedicated to my garden. Your story made me feel guilty about it 🙂

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