Annual Beautification Award

April 5, 2017

Beautification

It was not a difficult decision.

Not really.

They had to die. And if she had to do it… so be it.

Justice must prevail.

Felicity McIntyre stared at the black wrought iron sign with ornate gold lettering. A small lump grew in her throat as she glared at the perfect lawn and perfect flower bed. Perfect because it was like every other well-manicured piece of property in the small suburban village. Perfect and uniform and uninspired and wholly admired because…

They won.

The ultimate prize.

The Annual Beautification Award.

They. Who had never scrubbed dirt from under their nails. Never even touched dirt. Or pulled a weed. Or planted an annual. They who had no idea what a succulent was or how to coax a perfect lavender-blue from a hydrangea.

They.

Knew nothing.

They.

Did nothing.

They had “people” for that.

And still they won what had eluded Felicity McIntyre for years.

The Annual Beautification Award.

The first year she lived in her modestly remodeled Sears house on the lush, but unorganized spacious yard, Felicity didn’t even know the award existed. As she had carefully planned when she first saw the property, the retired school teacher patiently and slowly trimmed and dug and mowed and planted the space into submission. It would be a multi-year project beginning with the anchor plants and the gross garden structures. A pergola for the wisteria which would be planted in the fall so it would benefit from the rain and cooler weather, allowing for a small, but admirable showing the following spring. Two garden benches with built-in planters placed at the best angles to appreciate what would be the centerpiece of the space. A true English cottage garden. Complete with the proper ratio of perennials to annuals, herbs and vegetables perfectly mingled into the design. With appropriately sized shrubs. And, of course, roses. All settled in the correct percentage. Lawn to garden ratio was extremely important to the overall plan. It would take years, but Felicity was a master of slow progress. She taught 6th grade algebra for decades. She could be patient.

So when a group of middle-aged and senior community members walked the streets with notebooks and bottles of organic, fair-trade iced tea, Felicity had no idea they were judging. Judging her. Judging everyone. She simply thought they were gleaning ideas to use in their own gardens. Inspiration was often found in disciplined observation.

But three weeks later, when the splendidly crafted plaques were delivered to houses and businesses around Oak Hills, Felicity McIntyre learned the truth. She had been judged… and was found wanting. It didn’t upset her that first year. Not really. A worthy garden took time and the two months she was given was clearly not enough. However, the second year would be different. She just needed to accelerate the original timeline. So that fall, in addition to the pergola and the benches and planters, spurge laurel bushes originally planned as a third season were added as well some English yew, and  a lovely topiary placed as a focal point to the garden itself. It meant dipping into her retirement fund, but it was necessary. As were the grow lights and the modest greenhouse installed in her three-season porch. It certainly wasn’t attractive and meant there would be no space to actually use the porch for anything other than growing… but it was necessary to achieve her goal.

The Annual Beautification Award.

With the greenhouse assembled and the grow lights in place, Felicity mixed her starter soil, a recipe perfected by her husband. Walter and she used to fill their yard and deck and porch and balcony with gently raised seedlings which grew into spectacular bursts of color and fragrance. And they would sit and drink coffee or, on the odd occasion, wine and admire the fruits of their work and love and patience. Friends and neighbors would praise the beauty of their designs, the effortless appearance of what took months of attentiveness. Groupings that were daring, gregarious, seemingly mismatched… until they matured and proudly announced the perfection of the plan that Walter and Felicity concocted. And every year, their yard was more spectacular than the last. Every year more variety, more colors. More daring choices.

Until that last year.

When a trip to the doctor ended in tears.

And the year ended…

Badly.

No flowers.

Except those purchased by relatives and friends.

Because Walter always loved flowers.

The couple never had children, so Felicity was alone in transplanting her life.  Selling the house was difficult, but necessary. The money would feed the retirement fund and allow her to move into a more appropriately sized house.

And besides, there were too many memories in that yard.

On the deck.

And porch.

In the flower beds.

So when she saw the modest property in a small Illinois village, Felicity knew it was the perfect place to start again. With new memories. With her own garden. An English cottage garden.

Taking root with Walter’s seed starter.

Compost for nutrition.

Perlite and vermiculate to keep the soil light to allow air to circulate and prevent damping-off.

Coir to retain the right amount of moisture.

Lime to balance things.

Her winter stewardship was rewarded in the spring with a bounty of  phlox, lupines, oleander, bee balm, veronica, pansies, cosmos, and even hibiscus to transplant. As hard as it was to fathom, the herbs and vegetables outdid the annuals and perennials. Felicity knew this would be her year.

So she toiled in the yard.

On her hands and knees.

Conditioning the soil. Digging and planting the beds. Carefully caging the tomatoes. Training the thyme to creep in just the right way.  And she watched her neighbors, the Robinsons, as they shrugged and acquiesced to the landscape architect’s suggestions.  Both were retired, like her. Unlike her, they were gardening novices.

“Oh, anything really. Whatever you think will look nice,” Melody Robinson smiled.

“We don’t really know much about it, so just do what you think will be best,” Barry Robinson added.

And before Felicity was able to finish even a third of her planting, the Robinsons had a complete, fully grown, perfectly groomed and mulched garden. With an automatic watering system.

And it was uninspired.

And uniform.

And wholly admired by everyone who walked past.

That summer Felicity toiled and sweated and worked to the point of exhaustion, waiting for the day the group with notebooks and organic, fair-trade tea would make their rounds. And when they did, she would be ready. She thought.

Until the plaques were delivered.

And she was found wanting.

Again.

The next year, she added flagstone, arranged with her own hands. And even more pots. More rare, heirloom vegetables and plants. Belladonna. Foxglove. A variety of tomato from Unwins, England.

And again… nothing.

Three’s the charm, Felicity thought.  But then, disaster struck the greenhouse. Fungal disease ravaged her seedlings and nematodes attacked her newly grafted roses. Quick intervention along with more money from her retirement account and the spring arrived with fewer plants than Felicity wanted, but more than she expected. Even though the seedlings weren’t as plentiful as she would like, Felicity was surprised and pleased by the progress the perennials made as they dominated the yard with sumptuous perfection.

Still denied.

But worse, the Robinsons won. If they took the prize the following year, they would get a permanent plaque which would continually announce the beauty of their garden.  The garden they never touched.

Three’s the charm.

The Robinsons didn’t seem to even be aware of the impending honor. Nor did they notice when nematodes struck their roses that spring. When fungal disease ravaged their annuals. The service handled the problem. And poof… the garden was beautiful.

Again.

As Felicity added ivy trellises and reflecting balls and rare species whose seeds were procured from sources kept anonymous because they came from Canada and Europe and were not legally allowed to be shipped to America. Or so Felicity was told. And … the garden was resplendent. Neighbors paused and asked questions. There were invitations to flower clubs and an opportunity to teach a community class at the village hall.

So when prizes were delivered – the permanent, wrought iron one to the Robinsons and the small honorable mention slip of paper to Felicity McIntyre – the answer was clear.

An English tea in an English cottage garden. To celebrate the Annual Beautification Award.

Felicity McIntyre smiled to herself as she mixed her special recipe

A strong black tea to hide the taste of…

English yew to cause paralysis.

Nightshade to slow respiration.

Oleander leaves to shut down the nervous and cardiovascular systems.

Spurge laurel for internal bleeding.

The concoction was far more effective than her husband’s seed starter. And Felicity McIntyre knew in her heart the added benefit of the homemade bone and blood meal might just give her a winning garden the following year.

If justice prevailed.


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