Of neighbors and gardens

My friend Susan, who lived next door to our daughter in New Jersey, timidly asked if I could spare a few plants for her new backyard garden. Because of a family pet, she'd thought it advisable to erect a five-foot fence around their property. We agreed that ``good fences make good neighbors,'' but it looked so stark and inhospitable, she confided.

Well, anyone who's cultivated perennials over the years knows how they multiply, and is usually delighted to share them with an eager beginner.

The time was midsummer, however, and a dry one in Connecticut. Still, I promised Susan that when fall came I'd be happy to divide roots, with a special consideration of her proposed plot. She wouldn't have flowers that year, I said, but next spring would be full of surprises.

So eventually I filled boxes and baskets with such perennial roots as astilbe, bellflower, coralbells, day lilies, spiderwort, bee balm, veronica, helenium, and the like. I even included clumps of chrysanthemums for immediate color and Spanish bayonets for corner accents.

Susan visited me that weekend and returned with the well-soaked treasures which, she subsequently assured me, went into her garden the next day. I think she realized how much money she was saving. (Her gift of homemade relish was adequate compensation.)

She was also pleased with the labels I'd attached to each specimen -- marked tall or short for front or rear of her plot. I'd also named them colloquially in some cases. (She'd have all winter to verify their formal titles.)

Finally, I'd noted the approximate time of blooming, amount of sun or shade required, and general care of each plant. Susan's anticipation was really my delight.

But! Her husband changed jobs in December. Susan was left to sell the house and join him in Florida before March. All those flowers went to strangers! Not that I especially minded, so long as the new people were aware of what they were getting.

Susan told them, of course, about the embryonic garden out there asleep against the cedar fence. They seemed to understand.

My garden, at least, is breathing better for the gift of beauty we gave to strangers. Perhaps they'll no longer be strangers but good friends, brought closer by all that beauty that soon will burst out of the ground.

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