He sat down on the porch, where I was potting daffodils in my glazed green bowls (a little the worse for wear after a winter in our crumbling shed), and he said:
“My mother hated daffodils.”
The first spring in the new house, he said, in the garden someone else had grown, the bulbs offended: They are so damned obvious, his mother said. Just peeling into buttery bloom, they were the first to go.
A cool swath of lily of the valley was next, but it never really went away though she sliced each spring into the garden’s little bit of wildness, her muddy boat shoe on the sharp spade, each knobby rhizome a minor annoyance or a searing trial, depending on the new season’s emotional weather.
She loved (if she could) blue flowers, he said, spring’s grape hyacinths and indigo pansies, bachelor’s buttons the colour of a late-June sky and a blue daisy that he had not seen anywhere else. As each came into season she she fitted plants into tall, perfectly aged terra cotta pots, packing between their tight, ropey roots a few weightless handfuls of potting soil, scattering pebbles artfully across each dark surface.
The first watering was always a mess, the soil not yet knowing its job, not yet absorbent but swelling a little over the pots’ edges onto the flagstones below.
"You know how it resists at first?" he asked. It takes a few soakings to make it right.
But nothing was ever right. "Not the garden or the house and not the people in it," he said, just that digging at what might have been left alone and all the wrong things always.
*Title pinched, with gratitude, from Great Lake Swimmers' I Must Have Someone Else's Blues.