Sweet Thyme Baby – 20

 

Copyright © 2012 by Drusilla Campbell. All Rights Reserved.

20

(Start at the Beginning of Sweet Thyme Baby)

(Click here to read Section 19 first)

 

Dee ate a saltine to settle her stomach and went back to the house. From Con Ryan’s study she placed a call to the Whiterose offices in Connecticut. She identified herself, and asked to be connected with the company’s president, Ted White. She was a little surprised when the operator put her through immediately.

 

“I was just on my way out,” Ted White said. “But when I heard Cabrillo Point, I took the call. I expected to hear from Con Ryan.”

 

Dee explained that since White’s letter Con Ryan and his wife had died.

 

“The garden’s mine now,” she said. It chilled her skull to say those words to this man while she stood in Con’s library. She imagined she heard Con and Carlotta’s objections whispering in the air she breathed. “I’d like to talk about your offer.”

 

“I was out there eighteen months ago. I’m surprised we didn’t meet, Ms. Larue.”

 

She had seen him — a big man whose midsection showed it was a long time since he last bent over to pull a weed — and stayed away.

 

“I hope you’re calling to say we can make a deal. Whiterose has been looking for a west coast property for a long time. As a matter of fact, your timing’s good. Whiterose has been negotiating with a family up in Portland. Do you know the Bellfleur Gardens?”

 

“I’m not interested in selling,” Dee said. It was important to make that clear at once.  “I’d like to talk about a lease agreement.”

 

“Uh-huh.”

 

“My lawyer’s out of the country right now but –.”

 

“I didn’t mention a lease in my letter.”

 

“I’m aware of that,” Dee said. With the receiver tucked between her jaw and shoulder, she walked across the room, the cord stretching behind her like an umbilical rope, and stood at the window overlooking the vegetable garden. “According to the terms of the Ryan’s will, I can’t sell the garden to you.” Sissypuss stalked something among the melons. “But there’s nothing to stop a lease agreement.”

 

“It’d be a change of policy. How long did you have in mind?” Was the reluctance in his voice real or a negotiating tactic? “We always buy our property.”

 

Ted White had an “I-can-barely-be-bothered-talking-to-you” kind of voice. Dee imagined him in a tipped-back chair, legs crossed at the ankles, top-siders on the desk. Without interrupting she let him drawl out the history of Whiterose, tell her the company owned gardens in six different locations around the country, grossed multimillions every year from its shops alone and never mind the huge mail order business.

 

“We invest a lot in our properties,” he said. “We’d want to tear down your shop. No offense, but it’s on the dinky side.” He laughed. “And the layout isn’t very practical. We’d need to bring the fields in closer, use greenhouses –.”

 

“I have greenhouses.” She felt the need to defend the garden.

 

“I think we’d take that area north and build the mail order center there. We’d need at least one large building, ten thousand square feet minimum. For starters.”

 

“The sea meadows,” Dee said. “We gather wildflower seed there.”

 

“Whiterose has never been about wildflowers. The qualities just too unpredictable.”

 

“We could manage a five years lease.”  She would go to eight if she had to.

 

“Uh-huh.”

 

If he could be bothered negotiating.

 

“And I’m sure we could make some arrangements about the shop and greenhouses.”

 

If you give me enough to pay the taxes. I’ll work for salary.

 

“It’s true,” he said, “a lease would mean less up front money. That’s a plus because we might be able to swing the Bellfleur deal at the same time –.”

 

“Maybe you don’t realize it, but this garden is very unusual. I think you’d find all kinds of possibilities once you were here. Things you couldn’t grow other places will grow here.”

 

“So I’ve heard.” White’s laugh was soft and insinuating, as if he had heard the rumors and was too smart to believe them. “Whiterose isn’t opposed to innovation. We didn’t get to be the biggest mail order nursery in the country by turning down good deals.”

 

Dee held her breath.

 

“I gotta tell you, I was real surprised how much water you people got out there. I guess you got ponds sometimes, I didn’t see any, but it’s obvious there’s water somewhere. I went expecting to see the usual southwest coastal crap. That’s what we were looking for, a southwest property so we can expand our drought tolerant stock.”

 

Water was the garden’s biggest advantage and he was complaining.

 

“I’m a country boy, born and bred. My daddy used to run Herefords in Oklahoma. I got a taste for water conservation growing up.”

 

Dee’s shoulders sagged.

 

“You get what I’m saying, Ms. Larue? That’s the way gardening’s going in the next century. Water’s gonna be a precious commodity everywhere but the Northwest. If we were to buy the land, we’d make some changes, divert some of the water into ponds –.”

 

“We have ponds.”

 

“Put in xeriscaping, native plants –.”

 

“Most of the acreage around the ponds has been left native.”

 

“Like I said, I never saw ponds. It’s an interesting offer, Ms. Larue, but land counts with me. I like to own the land I’m working. You get ready to sell, then we can talk again.”

 

*

 

Dee left the house and stopped at the shed to gather gloves and hand tools and a wide-brimmed straw hat. She pulled a cart full of square plastic trays along a path that followed a rocky brook edged with cinnamon fern and orange daylilies. She crossed a plank bridge and continued into shade through naturalized beds of marsh marigold, cowslip, primrose and hostas with huge heart shaped leaves. She walked fast and her clogs left a trail of wedge-shaped indentations in the damp soil.

 

At a sunny clearing watched over by an old pepper tree dangling its rusty berries like ornaments, she left the path and walked through meadow grass beside a pond and then down the slope of a shallow south-facing gully where long ago Con had planted the drought garden mostly to impede erosion, not from any fondness for the plants there. You would approve of this spot, Mr. White. In this remote and deprived corner of the garden the plants received only the water they were lucky to get from seasonal rains and morning fog. Con did not care for the succulents he made a home for in this garden; their corpulent stems and leaves disgusted him. He once told Dee he came from a heritage where gardens danced, never hunkered down and just survived. He would despise Ted White’s xeriscaping and Pinkus’s ribboned jade plant. Mixed in with the succulents were long suffering natives like the California buckeye, cassia and cistus with its roseate lower faces open and guileless. Natives like these Con called the garden’s St. Jeromes. Carlotta said they were homely girls allowed to dress up once a year. The flowers of the summer holly had been replaced by garlands of small, shiny, red berries, but the morning mist was enough to keep the sprawls of pink and blue swan river daisy in bloom another month. At the base of the slope a thicket of black sage grew with the grace of stick figures climbing all over each other. Here and in other places in the arid garden grew Sempervivum, “hens and chickens.” Carlotta had called it houseleek.

 

Dee knelt, and using the long side of her trowel point began to nudge out portions of the “hens and chickens.” At first she wore gloves but as often happened, they became an encumbrance. She pulled them off and worked with her palms and fingers. The soil was light and coarse and warm. On her knees, bent over, digging, Dee forgot about Janet and Sweet Thyme and taxes and felt a nourishing connection to the millions of women who had assumed this posture in desert gardens and on plains and behind barns and houses and wherever there was a patch of soil, a beam of light, a drop of water. She had to laugh when she thought how incalculable was the number of gardens there had been through all the seasons since the miracle of seeds was discovered by some wise and observant woman. Dee laid her palms flat on the soil. She bent and put her cheek to the hot dirt. She closed her eyes and saw the women in their long skirts with babies slung across their backs and baskets over their shoulders. She saw women in sarongs with pyramid-shaped straw hats. She saw women bare above the waist with beads in their hair and rings in their ears and skin tattooed. She saw women with digging sticks dropping seeds from burlap bags and tamping the soil with their calloused heels. They spoke in languages dead for centuries, but Dee knew what they talked about. Men. Children. Bleeding. Home. The garden.

 

Copyright © 2012 by Drusilla Campbell. All Rights Reserved.

 

Click here to read Part 21 of Sweet Thyme Baby

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