Toil in the Soil

Gardening with the Gunches

I am not what you call a traditional gardener. Whatever I grow is on leftovers in the refrigerator.

But once— ONCE— I did real good with a poinsettia that I got at Christmas. I watered it every day and it was still blooming at Easter. I couldn’t believe it. Finally, my sister-in-law Gloriosa broke the news that it was made of silk.

After I got over that shock, I decided to go with it. I slunk off to the Dollar Store and now I have a pretty garden on the balcony outside my apartment. I even change the silk flowers out with the season, when I remember.

My sister-in-law Gloriosa lives in a gorgeous house Uptown with a flower garden that actually grows in dirt.

Unfortunately, she also lives next door to her husband’s parents.  Old Mr. Proteus ain’t so bad, but Ms. Sarcophaga, to put it nicely, is mean as a snake. She has never forgiven Gloriosa for being from the Parish—Chalmette— instead of Uptown.

Anyway, the other morning, I get a phone call. It’s Gloriosa, whispering— even though she lives in a entirely different house than Sarcophaga.

“My mother-in-law has gone bananas,” she says, real low.

What happened was, the night before, when she was getting in bed, Gloriosa remembered it was garbage night and she hadn’t emptied the diaper bucket. So she slipped outside to drop the bag of diapers in the bin by the curb.

And she saw something in the yard next door. Squirrel? No, squirrels don’t use flashlights.

She peered through the fence, and there’s Sarcophaga scuttling around in the grass, wearing a surgical mask.

After that, Gloriosa can’t sleep. Did Sarcophaga poison Sylvester, the neighborhood stray cat, and was burying him on the sly? But then Sylvester turns up at Gloriosa’s back door for his morning breakfast with tuna.

Maybe she done in old Mr. Proteus? But then he turns up at Gloriosa’s back door for his morning coffee with bourbon.

She adds extra bourbon and asks a few questions. Come to find out, Ms. Sarcophaga has become a garden club fanatic. She is ranked “Seedling” in the Uptown Horticultural Society, but she wants to attain “Full Bloom,” which means she got to produce a Garden of the Month.

And she was about to do it. She had this perfect fall garden, and  then she sees  brown spots on the lawn — even though she fertilizes it by hand and trims it with scissors.

She panics and sends Mr. Proteus to Slidell, where he won’t  be recognized, for a spray can of  “turf  paint.” There’s other kinds of plan  paint too, but it’s all against Society rules. If she gets caught, she will be demoted to “Garden Hoe.”

That’s why she is spraying at night.

And when the sun comes up, her lawn is green as a pool table.

But plant paint is addictive. Not that she sniffs it. But once she sees her grass, she wants more. The judging is day after tomorrow and her Naked Ladies – before you think filthy again, this is another word for Spider Lilies – could be redder.

So Mr. Proteus gets sent out for “topiary paint.” That’s what certain people use to paint their topiaries. (Before your mind goes into the gutter— topiary means a fancy-looking plant.) But this time — you saw this coming— he accidentally gets regular paint.

Next day, Ms. Sarcophaga wakes up to dead Naked Ladies, and takes to bed with a bottle of gin. Mr. Proteus feels so bad, he confesses to Gloriosa, and Gloriosa calls me.

I know just what to do.

I look under the kitchen sink where I stash my floral collection, and pull out my red silk Naked Ladies, run them under the faucet for that dewy look, and bring them to Gloriosa’s. That night she sneaks over and replaces the Naked and dead Ladies with the silk ones.

When the judges come around the next day, they rave about everything, especially the Naked Ladies.

And that’s how Ms. Sarcophaga got into Full Bloom. And it was the Chalmette Gunches who saved her from becoming a Hoe.

I hope she remembers that.