"This will never do," I said to my sister Judy when she showed me her herb garden. In fairness, it was not all bad. It was perfectly located near the kitchen door, and it had its own picket fence and a barnwood birdhouse. The problem was that Judy relegated her few herbs to poor-cousin status while she lavished all her attention on her flowerbeds. As I looked at her paupers, I thought of my own kitchen garden: a wild fecundity of color, texture, and fragrance spilling in a riotous revelry down the hillside and into the woods like a gleeful band of gypsy dancers. Clearly, Judy needed some help.
Judy lives near Ocean Springs in a 1909 dogtrot that she literally rescued from under a jungle of brambles and poison ivy. It's now a comfortable modern home with a picket-fenced yard full of old-fashioned flowers and ancient but still productive fig, pear and pecan trees. A restored barn covered in blue morning glories and a large field planted with sunflowers add to the romantic ambience.
Judy's son and his fiancée wanted a garden reception in her yard. Judy knew that scheduling a party was the best way to get anything done around her house. Her motto is work, then party. I was assigned the herb garden.
My mother visited me in Arkansas a few weeks later, so I enlisted her help. We potted up herbs and favorite flowers from my own garden and visited my favorite nursery. A few days later, we loaded 30-odd plants into the back of my station wagon for the trip to Judy's. Most were large, and they completely filled the back of the car, floor to ceiling. We hid the cleomes from my garden in the middle. Before they flower they look so much like marijuana that I thought a diligent highway patrolman would surely notice. The scent of the herbs rubbing together was intoxicating and would add to the suspicion if we were stopped. We made the long drive without incident, but we arrived at Judy's house giddy and hungry from inhaling the aromatic herbs all day.
Despite objections from Judy's husband, Steve, we decided to plant the cleomes along the front fence in plain view of the road. We thought they would contrast nicely with the Cashmere Bouquet already growing there, and it would give Judy an excuse to clean up the last pernicious thicket that held reign in one corner. Judy waded in, determined to root out all intruders once and for all, and was soon lost from sight. Mom and I headed for the herb garden.
We were each in our own worlds as we worked, and time held still for a long while. Gardening is meditative in nature. The repetition of the work and the scents, colors and sounds all contribute to the suspension of thought and a peaceful focus and clarity. Even Judy's campaign to control her corner, while it may have looked like a battle to an outsider, was a serene cleansing of soil and soul.
As I worked, the herb garden created itself around me. I looked up occasionally to feast on the wonder of it. Verdant stalks of lemon grass contrasted with the stubby gray bushiness of the lavender. Red flowers of salvia and pineapple sage competed to attract hummingbirds while the yellow-flowered Mexican mint marigold nodded and winked at the luscious blue lobelia spreading beneath. The flowering tobacco seemed to bolt toward the sky, ready to burst into fragrant white blossoms. As I handled each plant, it endowed me with its own scent, putting to shame my bottled aromatherapy.
Taking just one short break for a sandwich and sweet tea at noon, we finally finished an hour before dark. We were grime-caked, and Steve sent us straight to shower while he made supper. We ate our simple meal of eggs and biscuits on the porch in quiet contentment. The camaraderie and accomplishments were nothing new, just an ordinary day for a family that shares a love of gardening. But as the sun's last rays filled the yard with that magical light of day's end, we surveyed our work with pride. It had been a good day.