Short Story: My Mother’s Garden

This may or may not be an excerpt to a novel I’m working on. It’s still in rough draft form, so it’s anyone’s guess as to whether this will stay, but the scene worked so perfectly as a short story, I thought I’d share it here. Plus, it gives me a chance to show off photos from my own garden.

The bees were already at work on the lavender bushes, despite the early hour, and I watered the base of the billowing plants to avoid soaking their fuzzy bodies.

“You’re doing a wonderful job,” I cheered them on, just like Mom used to do. She talked to the bees, the birds, and the plants the same way she’d talk to a child, asking them about their day and offering encouragement. When I was young, I swore they answered her. 

Ours was the only house on the block with a vegetable garden out front. Our neighbors all had traditional lawns, kept meticulous because of our neighborhood’s self-formed Community Cares Association, the CCA. The reasoning behind this committee was to keep the neighborhood abreast of different issues and concerns, maintaining a safe and well-kept community. But really, it was just a group of busy bodies with too much time on their hands. Their neon green notices could be found taped to trash cans that stayed out past garbage day, or on cars that allowed too much space between their tire and the curb, or on any house that kept their Christmas lights up beyond January 2nd

Or when anyone’s yard was below a certain standard, thus bringing down the neighborhood’s property values. 

Before the vegetable garden, our lawn was a luxurious home to hundreds of dandelions. Before that, it was a lawn of green grass, just like everyone else’s. My dad used to mow the lawn, but once my mother discovered the dandelions, she made him stop. 

“The bees, George,” she’d said, citing the article she’d read about the dangers honeybees faced in a world of weed killer and climate change. “Once the bees are all gone, we’re next.” And so, our mission became to save the bees, blowing dandelion seeds across our wild, overgrown lawn, and celebrating the blossom drunk honeybees stumbling between vibrant yellow flowers.

My mother recycled the first notice left by the CCA, alerting her to the violation our lawn was committing. The second notice, she ripped up into tiny pieces and added the blinding green flecks to our compost. The third one, she picked a small bouquet of dandelions, placed it in a mason jar, then tied the notice around the lip of the jar with a ribbon. Then she left it next to our mailbox for the whole neighborhood to see. 

“Molly, perhaps there’s another solution,” my father urged, holding the notice for an emergency neighborhood meeting held at the home of Patty Jenkins, unofficial president of the CCA. 

“Darling, I don’t think you understand how important this is. It’s a matter of life and death.” 

My parents never argued, but when they came close, they used pet names like weapons. 

“Sweetheart, I understand completely,” my father insisted, “which is why I have an idea.”

Dad hatched the plan for a vegetable garden out front, and my mother tilted her head, mulling over all the bee-friendly plants she could think of to take the place of the illegal dandelions. 

Before the date of the meeting, my parents had torn out their front lawn, dandelions and all, built raised beds, spread the compost, and planted their own personal Eden. The CCA meeting was cancelled with no explanation, though once the garden took off, we sure saw a lot of Patty Jenkins, as her daily stroll seemed to include the sidewalk in front of our home. My mother would sit on the porch swing, sipping iced tea while she swayed back and forth, offering a wave until Patty hurried away. The garden stayed wild, but in a contained kind of way, with squash vines snaking their leaves around the tomatoes and marigolds, strawberries caressing the fragrant earth, cosmos lifting their pink faces to the sun…and lots and lots of honeybees. 

I kept the front yard garden my mother started years ago, adding rows of beaming sunflowers, towering cornstalks taller than my head, and blossoming trees that had cost me a fortune, but now bore fruit like ruby red cherries, slightly sour apples, and juicy succulent peaches that always dripped from my chin to my shirt. Like my mother, I whispered my own secrets to the plants, cradled the tiny vegetables on the vine while I measured their growth, and thanked the bees for letting me spend time in their unruly home. Watering the garden was like walking on holy ground. It was where green things grew, and where I grew, as well. It didn’t matter what was going on in the world, in my mother’s garden everything was fresh and new, sacred and safe, and full of magic. 

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