THE RETURN OF THE PRODIGAL GARDENER

I hate yardwork. Weeding is absolutely no fun whatsoever. Those people who garden to “commune” with nature and restore their souls are much higher on the evolutionary scale than I am. My husband mows the lawn. Period.

So we were so happy to find a young landscape architect just starting out in his career, who was eager to take on our yard as one of his first projects. He worked wonders. We loved him. He put us on his list of “regulars.” At that time, he probably had two families on the list; this was twenty years ago.

Fast forward. Everyone has aged, including the young gardener, but he still has great talent and lots of energy. We still love him, and our yard looks fabulous all the time. So why am I writing this, you ask?

About six weeks ago, he showed up in the yard for the usual “mid-winter” maintenance. I waved gaily at him from inside the house, never thinking for one second that I might never see him again. After he was finished, he knocked on the door to tell me that “I changed my cell phone number, but I’ll give you a new business card next time I come over.” I nodded. This was a huge mistake.

Weeks passed. Ohio had a very mild winter. Dandelions and other horrible weeds, some of them with giant thorns, began growing lustily in all of the flower beds. Bushes up and died. An arborvitae that we have always hated also gave up the ghost. But we were blithe—the lovely garden man would take care of all of this, we knew.

But nothing. He didn’t come. We began to have worried conversations:

ME: Why hasn’t he come yet? The yard looks terrible.

HIM: Maybe he left town. You know, he didn’t bill us for that last visit, when he told you he changed his phone number.

ME: Oh my God! You’re right! If he didn’t bill us, maybe something terrible has happened to him! Do you think he is sick?

HIM: It could be.

ME: No, No! We have to find out where he is! Do you know anybody who can tell you? His family or friends?

HIM: Not really. All the info I had on him was on his business card.

ME: You mean, for twenty years we have had this man working in our yard and beautifying the environment, and we know nothing about him, other than a cell phone number? This is horrible! We are horrible! And the yard looks horrible!

HIM: You can always call another landscaping service.

ME: I could. But all they know how to do is edge and mow. I need artistry.

HIM: Well, you had artistry in your yard for twenty years. You never asked him for any personal information?

These conversations went on for weeks. The yard became more rambunctious. I had harrowing visions of what my deck would look like if I tried to plant the window boxes myself. I bought some weed killer, and with a heavy heart, began sporadically spraying the odious growths in the beds, also managing to kill a few astilbes in the process. We mourned the “good old days.”

But the force was with us. Monday morning, I heard voices in the yard. I struggled out of bed and peered out the window. Praise heavens above, there he was, with rake and trowel, bending over the offensive foundation beds.

I ran outside in my pajamas to embrace him. I am sure he was taken aback. Not just by the embrace of a pajama-clad woman his mother’s age, but by her tears of joy.

I obtained his next of kin information. I’m considering having it tattooed someplace unobtrusive…

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