Passing time: conversations with gardeners

NastursiumThe garden is on a familiar street around the corner from a house I lived in years ago; I walk past it most weekends on my way to and from places I need to be. I don’t remember it from when I lived around the corner, although I’m sure the same people have lived in that house for decades. But in the years since I lived nearby I’ve become the kind of person who maps out walking journeys by the gardens I know I can peer at as I amble.

The house itself disappears behind the garden and its rambling structures; two large patches divided by the path that leads to the front door. Trellises, bean poles, shade cloth, chicken wire. Structures that will be covered in green come summer.

The gardener is standing out the front, leaning on one of the brick fence pillars, resting his walking stick there. As I approach in my noisy boots, he turns to look at me and I say hello. He smiles broadly and returns the greeting.

What are you growing? I ask him, stopping in front of the fence.

Tomato, he says, his Italian accent thick. He comes up to my shoulder, or thereabouts, and is wearing grey tracksuit pants held up by braces. It’s a warm day, so under the braces he wears only a plain white t-shirt. On his feet he wears slippers. Beans, he says, and gestures to what will be a wall of beans in a few months.

Is this garlic? I ask him. He smiles and nods. And fennel?

Yes, yes. All this, he says, sweeping his arm out to include the whole garden, one hundred dollars of manure. One hundred dollars, that’s all, for all this. If the weather is good, lots of food; if not, maybe not so much.

Let’s hope the weather’s good this season, I say.

It passes the time, he says. Passes the time.

It does, I say, and laugh. I tell him I walk past often and admire his garden. He had broccoli in last time I saw it.

Take some of this, he says, and points to the giant parsley plant in front of us. People take it all the time, he tells me, but the plant still grows well.

I tell him thank you but I have a large parsley plant at home myself.

You garden? he asks me. I nod. You have a house? How big is your yard?

About half the size of your front yard, I tell him. So I can’t grow quite as much. But I have herbs and have sprouted some tomatoes and beans and other things for summer.

It passes the time, he says, and smiles. I nod and smile back.

I’d better keep going, I tell him, but maybe I’ll see you when I walk past next week.

It passes the time, he says and rests his elbows on the pillar next to his walking stick.

It passes the time, I agree, enjoy the rest of your day.

Thank you, he calls out after me as I wander off down the street in my noisy boots, smiling.

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