Divide and conquer: at home and in the garden

My gardening pals will take one look at this photo and immediately get it: Frances, she’s probably already out there buying the Sherwin Williams’ Frida Kahlo blue! So, too, will Libba, who designed a rock wall around a pile of empty wine bottles leftover from her husband’s birthday party. (And who buys extra suitcases while on vacation — for the purpose of hauling home decorative rocks.)

With only a handful of weeks remaining in my Nieman fellowship, I’m all throat-lumpy about my impending goodbye to this place and these people I’ve come to love so much. A former fellow advised a while back: “You still have three months left! So you should think of it as the start of a three-month fellowship.” In other words, don’t obsess over how little time you have left, but focus on the abundance: Compared to my Real Workaday Life, where I get just four weeks of annual vacation, the fact that I still have three months off still lands me squarely in the catbird’s seat. Only now I’m down to just two.

So I’m making re-entry plans — gatherings I hope to have, stories I want to tackle, hikes I want to go on and gardening projects I want to undertake. Which brings me to the Blue Stick project I saw featured in an exhibit at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design.

“I heard about your little gardening idea,” my husband said recently, after my pal Janet let slip that I was plotting something similar of my own. “Interesting,” he added. “But how do you plan to pull that off?”

Paint, I said. And sticks.

“What kind of sticks?” he wanted to know.

The kind of sticks you paint!

For that matter, Captain Bring-Down: Does it matter if I actually undertake my own blue stick garden? Can’t a girl plot?

It was this time 21 years ago that Tom and I set out to cultivate our very first garden — vegetables, mostly, in the field in front of our rural Texas Hollow Road house. Tom got out the tape measure and marked off a space about the size of two refrigerators. Dorm-sized refrigerators.

I wanted half the field.

A “compromise” was reached. I got half the size I wanted, which was more than triple what Tom had in mind.

Then came the Colorado potato beetles. And the cutworms. The only thing that flourished was a gorgeous patch of okra, which neither of us really liked at the time.

Our gardening has morphed a lot, like our marriage. I respect those couples we know who run businesses together, but I honestly don’t get how they pull it of without calling Perkinson & Perkinson  — a pair of divorce lawyers in town. (I can never remember if they’re actually married or not, but the Perkinsons’ office phone number is similar to ours and we frequently get calls for them. So it’s become part of our vernacular that we joke about calling them after arguments.)

We’re in sync over our duties with the kids, but when it comes to other creative endeavors it’s best when we divide and conquer: I do the cooking, he does dishes. I buy the materials for science fair projects, he oversees the experiments — and the tears. Where garden projects are concerned, he doesn’t comment on the money I spend at plant nurseries on account of: It’s still cheaper than therapy. Most of the time. (Here’s a tip: If you buy several flats of seedlings, unload some of them in the front yard and some in the back, thereby watering down his ability to calculate the total.)

Although our tenants are mowing the grass, I don’t expect them to do the weekly (sometimes daily) chores required of maintaining my garden in the spring — weeding, trimming the shrubbery, hauling away last year’s detritus. It’s the first April in two decades that my fingernails aren’t all broken and dirt-encased from working in the yard (and my hamstrings aren’t toast).

So I say let me have my blue stick garden for now — or at least let me imagine it. By the time we roll into town in late June, there’ll be enough maintenance work to keep me happily, busily digging for weeks on end, with or without the Frida Kahlo blue.

But, seriously, Frances: What do you think?!

Leave a comment


  1. Margaret

     /  April 25, 2010

    We are enjoying our first Spring in our new home and loving it! This has been the warmest and prettiest Spring since we’ve been in Illinois. From our deck, we look out over the ponds (with our neighborhood swan, Sophie) and flowering red bud trees and other beautiful blooming trees. It’s been wonderful! As for plants, however, we have an overabundance of rabbits and they LOVE to nibble on my plants.

    When are you and Tom coming to see us?

  2. bethmacy

     /  April 25, 2010

    No worries, Jes. I’m actually gonna hire a friend to come over in mid-June for a few days and do a few days of trimming and weeding (but not the kale!), so if you could just keep it mowed, that’d be great. (Fortunately, because there are so many flower beds, it’s easy to mow, right?!)

  3. bethmacy

     /  April 25, 2010

    I did finally see a redbud yesterday in Cambridge — a smallish one. And just starting to bud. When Max was little he used to climb up into the one in our yard on Howbert and rip off those long seed pods, which he called “tickets!”
    Then he’d sell you a ticket to one of his shows!

    Pat West’s garden: We MUST make a roadtrip!
    (I worry: How to get you to play plant hookey when you’re working for Ed??? Probably just invite him along! 🙂

  4. What a strange world…. I was blogging about my little recurring nightmare of not showing up for work at the RT and letting the Friday Calendar go to waste…. And here I found my idol’s blog! Hi Beth!!!!!!!!!! Hugs to you, girl. And your whole family! I can’t help you with the garden. I suck at that!

  5. frances

     /  April 19, 2010

    Frida Kahlo blue you say?

    Reminds me of something Pat West would do in her garden up on the New River

    Last week I was wondering if Cambridge had red buds.

  6. I’m afraid the garden is a bit overgrown–I’ve had my hands full with an overly ambitious giant garden plan my friends cooked up (and now, all of a sudden, I’m the only one working it…hmm). You do, however, have a beautiful kale plant that came up all on its own! Sometimes not clearing away the detritus has great effects 🙂

  7. bethmacy

     /  April 18, 2010

    Hey girl, I’ll ask Libba to weigh in. Maybe she can email me a picture of her wall to send to you? It’s gorgeous.
    She’s also done really cool things with screens.
    I love the blue wine bottles (but never usually like the wine that comes in them, tho, alas).
    Oh, and my friend Frances was working on a bottle tree – aka Eudora Welty, for a time, I think. Let me check . . .

  8. Jenna

     /  April 18, 2010

    Oh yeah! You know I want to do this…
    AND I need to know more about Libba’s “wine bottle garden” you mentioned– LAST WEEK I googled wine bottle bed edging and found some great ideas for the 4 dozen bottles I collected for cheese boards but decided not to make!!! I think this is a sign that I need to paint sticks AND burry my wine bottles!

  9. I’m on to you now, Macy! Maybe we could do a miniature version of the blue stick forest? AFTER we fix the roof and the leaky basement!

Leave a Reply to Margaret

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • Now Available

  • Tom Hanks on “Factory Man”:

    Factory Man is “Great summer reading. I give it 42 stars. No, I give it 142 stars. Yeah, it’s THAT good.”
  • Follow Beth on Facebook

  • Tweets

  • The New York Times on “Factory Man”:

    This is Ms. Macy’s first book, but it’s in a class with other runaway debuts like Laura Hillenbrand’s “Seabiscuit” and Katherine Boo’s “Behind the Beautiful Forevers”: These nonfiction narratives are more stirring and dramatic than most novels. And Ms. Macy writes so vigorously that she hooks you instantly. You won’t be putting this book down. — Janet Maslin
  • Processing…
    Success! You're on the list.