In One Small Garden, Barbara Nichol brings together stories, memories, and botany to create a book that is as unique and lush as a summer garden. Here, plants from all over the world live and eventually die. Ants, raccoons, and a stray cat cross paths with a lost cockatoo who originated thousands of miles away. Stories and memories of people share …
THE RACCOON FAMILY • A LINE OF ANTS • THE POISONED GARDENER • PLANTS USE POISONS
The Raccoon Family
TEN YEARS AGO, in the early morning, there would often be raccoons roaming the garden. This was at dawn, when most people are still asleep.
Raccoons go about their business at night. They leave their homes after dark and go out to accomplish the things they need to, to carry on their lives: to eat and to survive. Because, for the most part, we do these things by day, we don’t often see raccoons. It’s easy to forget they’re all around us, living with us in the city, so nearby.
In the very early morning, though, the raccoons would sometimes dawdle in the gardens on their way home to sleep. They would stop on the roof of a garage next to the garden – a “at roof covered by a vine.
The vine still grows there and now covers the whole roof. It’s a Virginia creeper. A Virginia creeper vine grows very large and comes out with blue-black berries in the fall.
The littlest raccoons would take their time in the Virginia creeper, picking through the leaves and berries. The grown raccoons would wait for the little ones to come along. When the young raccoons had caught up, the raccoon family would climb down the side of a tall tree at the corner of the garage, the big raccoons going “rst.
The little raccoons would grope about the trunk before beginning the climb down to the fence that led them home. They were nervous about climbing straight down. The grown raccoons would wait. It was a short climb down the tree – only about three feet – but straight down.
Then, in a slow line, the family would travel along the fence top: big and small, identical shapes in different sizes, round and peaceful, not knowing they were being watched, “ve or six raccoons in silhouette.
And then they would just seem to disappear. One moment they would be there on the fence and then they would be gone completely, disappearing in the leaves. It was impossible to catch the moment when they left the garden.
They seemed to vanish into the pink air.
A Line of Ants
TEN YEARS AGO there was a maple tree just inside the gate. The tree was very tall – as tall as a three- or four-story house. Its limbs reached up high and spread out over the garden. In the summer it sheltered the garden under green leaves. Maple leaves have a shape scientists call palmate, like the underside of someone’s open hand. The maple leaf has “ve broad points for “ngers.
One visitor to the garden called the maple tree the guardian of the garden. It seemed to protect the garden under its boughs.
If the tree hadn’t been right beside the gate where people come and go, no one would have noticed the line of ants going about their business on the bark – hundreds of them, making their way around the base of the tree and up the trunk. They would disappear into the bark. They would disappear like the raccoons.
They always seemed to be there, orderly and busy, hard at work.
The store that sells young plants and tools for gardens is called a nursery, a word we use for rooms where human babies sleep. At the nursery they explained that the ants had made a home inside the tree. They said that this could harm the tree. They recommended a powder to be sprinkled in their path.
“This powder won’t harm any other animals,” they said, “because it isn’t poisonous. It’s deadly, though, to ants. The powder’s made of sharp and tiny particles. The ants will touch the particles. They’ll be scratched and injured and they’ll die.”
The Poisoned Gardener
This is a story about a boy who grew up in Vancouver.
WHEN RICHARD PRINCE was small, his next-door neighbor was a man who loved to tend his garden. Every evening after work – spring, summer, and fall – and all day long on weekends, the neighbor could be found behind his house, doing what one needs to, to have a handsome garden. He watered the plants, he pulled up the weeds, he added fertilizer to the soil. And he sprayed the plants with poisons. He did this to rid the garden of insects and diseases. He did this to rid the garden of pests.
In the neighbor’s garden the poisons worked their magic. The apples on the apple tree were round and red and perfect; the grass, an even patch of emerald green. The bushes were not powdery with fungus. The roses bore no spots.
It was like a garden in a picture book – like a vision in a fairy tale – and so it stayed for years. It might still be perfect, although this is unlikely, things changing as they do. In any case, the story ended long ago.
The gardener never did grow old. Instead, he became pale and thin in middle age, and died of a disease the experts say comes from breathing in the sorts of poisons he’d been spraying in his garden. The gardener next door had rid the garden of pests. He’d sprayed to make the insects and diseases vanish. And then he vanished too.
Plants Use Poisons
GARDENERS use poisons to protect their plants, and plants use poisons too. Lilies of the valley are poisonous to eat. Daffodil bulbs are poisonous. Animals will leave them be.
And plants have other ways that they defend themselves. There are plants that protect themselves with bitter taste. These plants are safe as well, at least from being eaten.
There are plants that send out chemicals into the soil, so that other plants can’t grow close by. Black walnut trees do this. They don’t have to share their water, food, and space with other plants.
Roses protect themselves with thorns. Poison ivy protects itself by delivering its famous itchy rash. There are evergreens that give off chemicals to keep other plants and maybe insects off as well. This explains the smell of Christmas trees.
Animals use such things as teeth and claws, horns and stingers. We protect ourselves with guns and gates and laws and lies, and by running away.
Finalist in the Nautilus 2005 Book Awards
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