Friday, August 27, 2010


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (8/24/10)

Ann Marie Zeller’s garden is a quintet of gardens, each one playing off the others, elaborating variations on a theme, fuguing now and then to parts unknown, sometimes far from the beginning, and then returning to the beat and theme. A quintet is a conversation either amongst strings, winds, brass, or voices. It can be a conversation amongst friends or internally within ourselves amongst the various personae we’ve accumulated over a lifetime. In short, a quintet of gardens is the internal conversation within the gardener or, perhaps, within the gardener’s family.

The garden facing the street, the presenting self, as the shrinks like to say, is the garden that visitors first see, the one that Ann Marie first developed. Somewhat of a fairie garden, its tiny steps and flowering chives lining a narrow path pass under a huge, overhanging pine tree into the back yard. A feminine yard of yarrow and columbine, it welcomes the visitor in a fine lyric soprano, such as Dame Kiri Te Kanawa singing “Come to the Fair,” floating over the path, beguiling the visitor farther into the garden.

But there it ends. Once around the corner in the line of sight
is the wild side garden straight up a steep embankment where the treading is uncertain and the discoveries are those of an abandoned forest, pine, sumac, Gambel oak, tufts of grass, and drifts of this and that. Anne Marie’s daughters hide out in the wild side garden when they want to be rid of boring, responsible adults which means that it’s a garden with hormones out of kilter. It’s a garden of giggles, screams, shrieks, growls, and howls, especially in the dark of night, with the voice of a throaty cabaret contralto, a Tallulah Bankhead voice, trained on alcohol, tobacco, and drugs, beckoning the unaware out of their comfort zones into hidden but forbidden delights.

Smack dab next to the wild side is the stable side, a back yard that looks like what a back yard should look like with a strong baritone voice, something like Thomas Lampson, belting out, “God Bless America.” A proper backyard has to have a lawn, a big expanse of green grass on which children can roll and tumble, games can be played, and dogs can run in circles leaving a few yellow spots here and there. It is a backyard for an old-fashioned 4th of July picnic with Old Glory flying high, hot dogs and hamburgers, sack races, well-worn war stories, and some ruffles and flourishes.

Such a yard gives a sense of stability amidst the swirl of life’s conflict and demands, a refuge of comfort. Maple and fir trees form a backdrop while bearded irises, blanket flowers, yarrow, California poppies, red hot pokers, and lilies border the lawn. Over in a corner next to the house and the wild side are a fire pit, table and chairs, and an outdoor grill sheltered under a canvas canopy.

Literally, there’s a garden’s gate leading from the comfort zone into a garden of organized chaos, a place of vegetables, vines, fruits, a place of burgeoning life and fruition. There are no straight lines, but rather a meandering path amidst a cornucopia of goodness, a tomato plant here and there, a couple of artichoke plants, climbing grape vines, some towering dill, raspberries, huckleberries, mint, lavender, anything that can be eaten. One half expects to see a full-figured Mother Nature standing somewhere amidst the bounty holding out her apron, filled with the fruits of the earth. The only voice possible is a rich, lush contralto, a Marian Anderson singing a Negro spiritual out of the depths of a black American’s experience of the gospel.

Finally, a very small garden on the side of the house with chairs facing a lattice filled with sweet peas, a place of quiet contentment. A place to listen to the three tenors, Plácido Domingo, José Carreras, and Luciano Pavarotti sing “O Sole Mio,” “What a beautiful thing is a sunny day.”

Anne Marie’s garden was one of the two winning gardens in the 2010 Flagstaff Garden Competition. She enjoys visitors, but call ahead.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2010

Photographs courtesy of Tom Bean.

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