I was feeling sorry for myself when I thought of the man who gave me flowers.
He said very little, saw such a lot, couldn’t read but was a master of growing.
He had barely avoided being lost in a mine shaft and had suffered a nervous breakdown over climbing ladders; but in retirement he made a real living out of pottering and obsessing—never lonelier, never happier, never available to anything but his bliss.
His specialties were sweet peas and chrysanthemums, the latter daisy-like or pompon-shaped and enormous like the inedible onions he also won prizes for. But the former were unwritten poetry: long-stemmed, crepe-papery, candy-colored and as sweetly scented.
He sowed them early and prayed for gentle rain, cool sunshine and uneventful nights. He trained them up bamboo poles, tying them loosely so it was their idea to reach upwards. Suckers were cut off, which bothered him a little but ensured long strong stems; so were the tendrils that could make a mess of his plans. As the buds appeared he shielded them against the weather; as they blossomed he cut and arranged them in green metal vases with narrow bases and wide brims. The first crop over, he knew how to get another, folding the stalks down, a trick that fooled them into thinking they had to begin again.
They brought him visitors, a little cash (kept under his mattress) and a lot of praise, satisfaction and disbelief, and frustration because he couldn’t bear to waste his time on such things.
He never made me feel unwelcome, giving me a special bouquet he had put aside. I had nothing to say but “thank you, it’s beautiful.”
All I really knew of him were the flowers he gave me.
I have sweet peas in my garden now, allowed free reign by my laziness, with suckers and tendrils, reaching and falling, rain soaked and wind broken, encouraged and burned by the sun, yet somehow as perfect as the ones he grew.
About that he maintains a heavenly silence.
In Memoriam (About my late father-in-law, 2005) (if you click on link, please scroll down …)
Bill Denton, retired groundskeeper (Wroxton), died on September 20, 2004. He joined Wroxton College in 1976 and worked on the Abbey grounds with his son, Robert Denton, groundskeeper (Wrox), until his retirement in 1999.
(I believe he was nearly 100 when he died … worked gardening on the Wroxton Abbey estate in Oxfordshire, England until he was about 94.)
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