Blackberries in sand summed up Gloria’s garden on 18th Avenue in the fogbound Richmond last summer. Our native species of Rubus provide a habitat for a host of fauna, but Gloria’s congestion sheltered nothing, with the possible exception of rats. Because the sand was so low in nutrients, few stalks were higher than my waist but they were defiantly territorial, snarly, typical products of bad homes. I was not intimidated. I had seen worse.
What the bushes lacked in height they attained in depth, roots going down to places that gardeners don’t visit. One thing made me rejoice: digging in the sand was as easy as spooning mousse, and after two days of scuttling around on my knees with my avenging shovel, the prickly mass that did not fit into the green bin lay drying out in an untidy heap near the house.
Gardens make good ruins. Even there, in that horticultural forlornness, surprises surfaced, one by one or an appearing en masse: 2 owls on amputated limbs, a nuclear family of 4 frogs, a footless bunny (what luck!) a lounging lamb, a cocky cock, a three-legged turtle. Yes, and a Dr. Seuss cat and 24 exhumed ducklings. All concrete, all gray except the ducklings which were more-or-less white with yellow beaks.
My first impulse was to corral them in a corner, prior to ferrying them to the abattoir, but savvy gardeners adhere to the principle: distrust first impulses. I lined them up in the breezeway where, after multiple viewings, they began to air their complaints, these lame and bedraggled refugees. My heart was moved. After the planting was finished, I rehabilitated them: frogs on the patio, owls on the fence, the ducklings in a tiny meadow of golden acorus and baby tears, the turtle on the tabletop, and the rest, the solitaries, in faux-naturalistic tableau. Kitsch qualifies as taste. I faced them all toward the house. “You are Being Watched” seemed like a good name for the garden (as if I ever named a garden.)
A year later, the blackberries are still full of moxie, each segment of un-routed root shooting rockets. Given compost and irrigation, they reek of misplaced optimism. I still have my shovel. Perhaps not misplaced. Global warming, they say, is a boon to the adventitious and parasitic, things like ivy, sea urchins, and mosquitoes. Add Himalalyan blackberry to the list.
This day, unpleasantly hot, I am back on the attack. I know eventually the crop will diminish. Blinded by sunscreen, I stumble over one, then the other, of the two junior frogs, and plant my face in the sand. It feels like revenge enacted, but no harm done, no limbs broken, no blackberry incisions. I reset the junior frogs on their haunches, and face them toward the back wall. Extinction Crisis for Amphibians: I read the news today oh boy.
A new name for the garden comes to mind: “We Turn Our Backs On You.”