Guest Post by Marie Viljoen of 66 Square Feet
When I was a little girl, I picked a branch of pink lilac hanging over a
neighbour’s fence, in Bloemfontein, South Africa. I carried it home to my
mother. The elderly gardener whose lilac it was pursued me to our front door. My
mother was preternaturally calm about it all, and refused to punish me. Perhaps
because I had picked the beautiful flower for her. I might be bent, but I was
Soon after, when I picked all the pink sprays of blossom I could
reach from the tall old lilac shrub at the same front door, my mother was less
sanguine: What have you done? she cried, tears starting in
her blue eyes.
Mutely, I held up my offering.
Thirty years later,
I’m standing at our studio window on the Lower East Side, New York, where our
garden design business is based. I see someone across the street, in Sara D. Roosevelt
Park, standing in the flower bed, between two low fences, calmly
snapping off waist-high Formosa lily blooms. I planted those lilies three years
ago, from 100 bulbs we purchased for the park, in slow transition from drug
strip to inner city oasis. I rush across the road, forgetting traffic, with
camera in hand. Snap-snap-snap, I take pictures in my rage. She does not even
look up. She stuffs her haul, upside-down, flower heads first, into a shopping
cart on the other side of the fence.
What have you
You are a thief! I gasp. The charge is basic. Eloquence
flees. The root of the matter. The flowers do not belong to her. Nor do they
belong to me. They belong to the air beneath the plane trees and the traffic
whizzing past on East Houston and the basket ball dudes on the courts and the
old Chinese ladies doing Tai Chi at 7am and the bums at the tables with their
brown bags and the hipsters eating lunch on the steps from Wholefoods recyclable
cardboard and the ambulance drivers who always let their engine idle while they
rest in the cool air conditioning inside and the apartment dwellers flanking the
park and us across the street, designing gardens for rich rooftops and nostalgic
for scented blooms in the middle of the biggest city in the United
Cut off at the knees.
Not that it was unprecedented or unexpected. Last spring our pots in front of
the office were trashed. We replanted. A favourite flowering quince was broken into. Then the boxwoods of summer
disappeared. We planted more. The median we had planted for the city suddenly lost about 90% of
the agastache we had purchased and planted in May: systematically snapped off.
We kept on watering. It resprouted.
And that is the only lesson I can draw. Don’t give up. Keep on truckin’.
Whether people are aware of it or not, flowers and plants make us better people.
At least most of us.
Marie designs gardens in New York City and tends her own little
terrace in Brooklyn.
Photos: Top, thief making her getaway. MIddle: the trashed pots in front of Marie’s office. Bottom: remains of agastaches.