A Green Thumb
by Trina Kurilla
Mrs. Edith had the most beautiful garden in the county. She started out simply, with tulips and African daisies in a little plot in front of the porch. As her affinity for plants developed, they consumed the rest of the available space in her yard. Her world-travelled husband would bring her back exotic seeds and Old World supplements that enriched the soil of her growing beauties. The black-eyed Susan vine crawled up through her husband’s handcrafted lattice work, a gift he lovingly built her many anniversaries past, while lethal Angel’s trumpets, passing for sweet bells, hung from the archway’s woven curve. Rarely seen parrot’s beaks cascaded over the sides of their terracotta pots, blood flowers drew in the butterflies, and the monkey orchids won for her the first trophy she ever received. The mantle in her living room displayed the awards she had earned over the years for her care of exotic plant species. She always had a smile on her face and a pitcher of lavender lemonade on the porch for passersby; the purple buds plucked fresh from her garden for every batch, the lemons squeezed from her own lemon tree. So far-reaching was her generosity that there was not a soul in the county who did not have a story to share of her big-hearted nature.
Curious, maybe even envious, gardening connoisseurs would ask Mrs. Edith how she was able to keep her flora so lush. She explained the best – the very best thing – was to have rich, fertile soil. Mrs. Edith elaborated that to accomplish this they should start their own compost. Egg shells, coffee grounds, they’re a good start, but don’t be afraid to experiment with your compost, she would say. Your garden is what you make of it. Don’t forget—you need to let it sit there, let the worms do their work, even if it takes over a year. Patience is the key. Eventually, you’ll have the best fertilizer you have ever used in your life. Some couldn’t believe it was just a matter of compost; Mrs. Edith would smile and wink, leaving it at that. Of course, she never disclosed the specifics of her husband’s overseas additions to the fertilizer; it was taboo for a gardener to give up their secret formula. The compost she spoke of was preserved in a large box in the far corner of the yard. She kept the circular cover closed and padlocked to deter animals from getting in. And the tried-and-true potency of her secret recipe paid off handsomely. Her flowers were so vibrant and unique in appearance they seemed unreal. Those who bent to take in their scent were overwhelmed with the rich and intoxicating aroma of the blossoms in full bloom.
Over the years, neighbors had come and gone, children graduated and moved away, and with the passing of her husband, Mrs. Edith became Ms. Edith. Even on the day of her husband’s funeral, she tended her garden. It was the only way to get through it, she explained, as a few tears escaped her. Her husband had been such a huge contributor to her garden’s success; it, as well as their deep love for each other, had lasted and thrived throughout their whole marriage, and by being there, she could be with him. Everyone had sympathy for sweet old Ms. Edith, but she carried on quite well. If she was not in the garden, she was volunteering at a children’s hospital or at the soup kitchen. Ms. Edith’s kindness spread throughout her town, but as much as she was involved in her community, the apple of her eye was her garden.
She was well expected to be earning her thirteenth win in a row of Exotic Excellence from the National Garden Clubs. It was quite a shock for Ms. Edith and the social circle of the county when she lost. Upon closer inspection during her pruning, however, Ms. Edith realized that her flowers were not as colorful or fragrant as they normally were. The faces in the monkey orchids weren’t nearly as distinct, and the Chinese black bat flowers had lost their striking resemblance to their slumbering animal brethren. She reluctantly agreed with the judges’ decision; with a heavy heart, even she could see that the spirit her garden previously held had begun to wither.
The compost was not as hearty as it was when her husband was alive; she could feel the difference as the once-meaty soil crumbled in her hands. Drooping flowers and rubbery leaves just would not do for Ms. Edith. Acting immediately, she took her own advice; the only way to fix the problem would be to reinvigorate the compost. It would take a full cycle of seasons for the layers to decompose and become rich enough to give her garden the edge it needed to capture the win in the next competition. Ms. Edith would not stand for the garden to continue to lose its luster; its vibrancy was the only way she could honor her husband’s legacy. She would not and could not let him down again.
Over the course of the next year the town expanded some, school broke for the summer, and runaways appeared on the Missing Persons board, as they always do. Autumn brought a newly elected mayor, and Santa’s visit to the Christmas bonfire featured none other than Ms. Edith as Mrs. Claus. When her flowers bloomed during the height of spring, Ms. Edith graced the front page of her local newspaper under the headline, “Great American Gardening Award Winner Announced.” In the photo she was holding up the newest of her collection, an uprooted three-foot-tall fleeceflower. The beauty of the specimen lay not with the very simple plant life that grew above the surface, but with the root that grew underneath, within the soil. There was a crude outline of what looked like a face in the bulbous shape that led to what could be called shoulders, which Ms. Edith so lovingly grasped in her hands, and continued on into a torso-like body. Stubby arms and legs, along with a very pronounced growth that extended out between the tops of the thighs, grew from the large root. With the smile of a proud mother, Ms. Edith was peering into what could be considered its face, and if readers looked closely, they might see eyes that appeared to bulge and a mouth stretched open wide, unhinged, captured forever in immobile terror.
In the article, like every year, they asked her what her secret was; and, like every year before, with a smile and a wink, she would say, it’s all in the compost.
previously published in formercactus, Issue 6