Horace and Livy

I was picking basil for dinner, seated on the baking-hot concrete at the end of my driveway, when I was accosted by an itinerant merchant of fig trees driving a Prius. “How does your garden grow?” he asked, idling wrong-way-round on the curb just athwart the driveway apron. Slender, with a Darjeeling-tea complexion, a hooked nose, and elflocked, sun-streaked hair, he looked like as if he had just come from a casting call for Jesus.

I am probably too inured to madmen. Amiable responses led to the explanation that he lived two blocks down, had been watching my herb plots and flowering bushes chugging along, and wondered if I would like a fig tree. “We have six varieties and I’ve been rooting the cuttings to sell.”

So the next evening, not quite knowing the size range of fig saplings available for survey, the Engineer and I drove past two Stop signs and pulled up in front of a house I pass often, just thinking of it as The House With Lots Of Flowers That Used To Have A Handsome Ginger Cat (back when I moved in here, eighteen years ago). No one answered a knock at the front door. I looked around the side yard, which was chock-a-block with rain barrels, potting benches, and plant pots of every size, and when I called “Hello?” an answer came from what sounded like the next county.

Along with fig trees, he had a (slightly illegal) henhouse; three bee hives; kiwi vines and Concord grapes; peach and pear trees, a couple of rows of yellow-orange pearl tomatoes, and two pomegranate trees, already fruiting, that he’d raised from a grocery store leftover. The lot joined onto a neighbor’s lot that he’d leased for farming while the nabes were overseas; the tangle of vines and branches blocked the view from all but a few vantages, so that it was like falling into a tesseract that took you to the land of Canaan or some Greek hillside full of silence and pollination.

I tasted a few figs and decided to be safe and get a beginner’s tree: a variety called “Hardy Chicago” that pops out little black thumbs of dusty figginess, warranted sturdy against north winds and drought. I hoped to hell it was because it has not rained around here in days, and Gardener Jesus has enough territory to cover that he was behind on the watering and those potted saplings looked like the morning after the night before. I named it Horace; tucked glumly against the edge of the pot, a a bonus, was a stick with shriveled leaves on it that I dubbed Livy. His History of Rome goes on for a while so I thought it might be an encouraging name.

Gardener Jesus spoke sooth as far as Horace; a good drenching and a night on my back porch perked him right up. You could make undies out of any one of his leaves. Livy does not look so good, but I potted him anyway to see if anything green happens. My lot is getting fairly full but, taking my figgist’s advice that the tree likes full sun, I decided to place it where it would shade the driveway, a little barrier-mark between me and the neighbors from Hell who made me live under the shadow of Damocles’ Oak for five solid years. One thing they cannot complain about is the encroachment of a well pruned fig tree.

The Cute Engineer, well versed in classical history and literature (he once composed a quite farcical Cliffs Notes sort of thing about the Trojan War under the pseudonym Erroneous Hilarious) did yeoman work kicking the shovel into the clay and importing a forty pound bag of organic soil. I am not sure either of us know much about what we are doing here, but Horace looks happy.

Here the rich
wealth of the countryside’s beauties will
flow for you, now, from the horn of plenty.

At least I hope so.

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