There are days when you have no idea what gets into you.
At the Wednesday Farmer’s Market in Monument Square last week, I had no intention of buying a plant, only fruit and vegetables. Then I saw some hyssop, an aromatic herb that is on my list for next year when I turn the deck into what will be primarily a fragrance garden.
He was crammed into a tray with other herbs, sad looking and potbound. Hyssop is among my favorite fragrances so I decided we could exchange favors: I would give him a better home and he could share his astonishing aroma with me a year before I expected it.
Early that afternoon, I tended to the other garden plants, gave them all some water, sprayed their leaves, picked off debris and then potted up hyssop into a container large enough for his roots to spread out. When I sat back to admire my handiwork, the oddest little drama took place.
NEWBIE IN THE GARDEN - a play in one act
Cast of Characters - in order of appearance
PLACE: The second-floor deck of a home near the bay in Portland, Maine
TIME: Summer, in the temporary shade of early afternoon
RED: Hey, Pink…
BIG PINK: Who ya talkin’ to, Red? There’s two of us, ya know.
RED: Well, I wouldn’t be talking to the little guy, now would I?
LITTLE PINK: Aw, come off it, Red, why do you have to be like that? What difference does it make if I’m smaller than Big Pink?
RED: You’re not small, Pinkie, you’re puny - puny by comparison and…
BIG PINK: Watch your tongue, Red, and mind your manners. We have a newcomer among us. (addressing Hys) Welcome to the garden, young fella. Do you have a name?
HYS: Uh, well, mister, they called me Hys 2 on the farm where I come from.
RED: (dismissive) That’s not a proper name. Why is there a number in your name?
HYS: Um, I guess it’s because I was second in the row of hyssop I was born into, ma’am.
BIG PINK: Well, you’re no number two now, young fella. We’ll call you just Hys. Is that okay with you?
HYS: Oh, that would be very nice. Thank you, sir.
RED: Just a minute, Pink. It is I who gets to do the formal naming here. My beauty entitles me to…
LEM: (interrupting) Red, dear, perhaps you could tone down the ego a tad, at least for Hys’s first day in the garden. He’s already understandably nervous and we don’t want to make it worse for him.
HYS: Oh, it’s okay. I don’t…
BIG PINK: Lem’s right. Let’s go around the garden and introduce ourselves one at a time. I, Hys, am called Big Pink. It’s me you come to if Red is…
RED: (raising her voice) If Red what, Pink? What are you saying? How dare you imply…
MISS MELLIE: Please, please. Can’t we all just get along. This bickering is so unseemly.
PARS: (weakly) Hear, hear.
LITTLE PINK: They call me Little Pink, Hys. When you’re settled in, I’ll tell you about the butterflies. And the bunny rabbits.
RED: Pinkie, your brain is as puny as your size. There aren’t any bunny rabbits here.
BIG PINK: Give it a rest, Red.
HYS: Oh, I’ll look forward to those stories, Pinkie – er, I mean Little Pink.
THYME: Hello, Hys, I’m Thyme. You’ve arrived late in our high season and even Red knows better that to pressure you to perform too much this year. Give me some time with you - that’s an herb joke, Hys - and I’ll help you study for next spring when you’ll be expected to stand tall and strong.
HYS: Heh, heh, heh. Good joke, ma’am. I hope you’ll have some more of them for me in study class.
ROSIE: Hello, Hys. I’m Rosemary…
RED: Oh, get off your high horse, Rosie. No one’s ever called you that.
BIG PINK: Stop that, Red, you’re becoming tiresome.
LEM: I’m pleased to meet you, Hys. Welcome to our garden aerie. I hope you’ll like it here.
HYS: Oh, I like it already, ma’am.
LAVENDER: Well, it’s not like you can move across town if you don’t, is it? I am Lavender and I don’t think we should be quite so close together, you and I. You’re scent gets in the way of mine.
RED: Hah! Too bad, Lavender. Like you said, there’s not much you can do about moving to another spot in the garden.
HEDY: Point well taken, Red – and you too, Lavender - Hys is a bit overpowering, even from up here on this fence post. (to Hys) I’m Hedy, Hys, and it won’t be long before I’ve twined myself all the way to the roof – a height that Red, in her arrogance, can only dream of.
RED: Shut your mouth, Hedy. Nothing you do can match my glorious color.
BIG PINK: Ladies, ladies. Let’s not scare off young Hys on first day in the garden.
RED: Well, she started it and…
HEDY: Hmmph. Hys, listen to me. It’s not gaudy blooms you want. It’s stretching out, moving up, reaching for the sky. That’s what life is all about.
HYS: If I may say so, ma’am, I know what you mean – sort of. But for me, it’s in the other direction right now. My feet were hurting, all cramped up where I was before and it feels so good to stretch them out and wiggle my toes.
MISS MELLIE: That’s nice, Hys. Very nice for you. Welcome to the garden. You seem like a polite, young fellow. I look forward to watching to grow up.
HYS: Did you notice, ma’am, I already have my first bloom?
RED: You hear that, Hedy? His bloom. He said bloom.
HEDY: But he’s also stretching out his feet and by tomorrow morning he’ll be reaching for the sky too.
BEGONIA: (slow, deep, booming voice) Enough! All of you. Hys, we are pleased to have you join us. You have a long life ahead of you and…
PARS: (interrupting as Begonia’s voice wakens him from his meditation) Hello, son. Was it Hys you’re called? I don’t hear as well as I once did. I’m old, you know, my day is almost done and I’m preparing to go home to Gaia… (his voice trails off)
BEGONIA: And we’re all here to help you get there, old man, when you’re ready. Now, everyone, let’s give Hys a rest. It’s been a liberating day for him, but stressful too and he needs some time to get comfortable with us. We’ll take a couple of quiet hours now until Sol shows his face again from the other side of the garden. Welcome home, Hys.