Osmocote Advertisement

Rex Begonia: Garden Detective


Something was wrong. I could sense it. How? That’s my job.

My name is Begonia. Rex Begonia. I’m a detective. A garden detective. I speak in short clipped phrases and I pack a trowel.

There was nothing wrong with the weather. The weather was perfect. Too perfect. It was one of those evenings that give garden writing a bad name, that cause otherwise perceptive, talented writers to reach inexplicably for their thesauruses. They start using words like “dappled” and “palette” and phrases like “discordant symphony of riotous hues” and I start reaching for the bottle. Pour me a drink, Sam.

Sam is my partner. At least he was. Sam Spade. (Yeah, all the good garden names are already taken.) Anyway, Sam Spade was the best damned garden detective in the world until “The Case of the Mildewed Garden Glove.” Even for a hard-boiled guy like me, it’s still pretty tough to talk about. Let’s just say that Sam mistakenly drank one too many 10 percent bleach solutions. Along with his pruners, he disinfected his lower G.I. tract. I learned a valuable lesson from Sam: always clearly label your garden refreshments. Here’s to you, buddy.

But back to this story.

It was a perfect night in a perfect garden. The garden of Mrs. Thuja von Thistle III. Sam used to say, “Never trust anyone with a Roman numeral after their name. They might be Roman.” I never understood what the hell he was talking about. In this case, though, the Roman numeral was after her husband’s name. And aside from the fact that his name could have been used as a speech pathologist’s warm-up exercise, she was coming on to me like I once saw a hummingbird come on to a bright red fire extinguisher. Whether I would be able to remain as steely was another story.

I got an eyeful as she approached me. She moved the way shadows do under a honey locust on a sunny day. And that dress. It reminded me of a Miscanthus grass plume–and had almost as much substance.

She came over and stood next to me closer than Virginia creeper on a stucco wall. She smelled like gardenias and lavender. Or was that the garden?

“Oh, Mr. Begonia,” she said in the kind of voice that would thaw permafrost in Minsk, “I hope my gardenia perfume doesn’t clash with the lavender from my bubble bath.” (I could sense this was her opening gambit. Even though I didn’t know what a gambit was, this had “gambit” written all over it.)

“No,” I said, but they’re both clashing with the heliotrope you have planted somewhere around here.”

“That’s not heliotrope, “ she cooed. “I just baked a cherry pie. Would you like some?”

“Not unless you have Neopolitan ice cream on it.”

“Oh, Mr. Begonia,” she said in a way that made me itchy all over. (On the other hand, it could have been any one of a half dozen things in the garden that aggravate my skin allergies.)

“Oh, Mr. Begonia,” she repeated, starting to get on my nerves, “I’m in trouble.” (She had come to the right guy. Trouble is my middle name. Actually, Sebastian is my middle name, but I try to keep it quiet.)

She moved closer, smothering me like sooty mold on a basswood. The scents of gardenia, lavender, and heliotrope (or was that cherry pie?) covered me like aphids on a hybrid tea. The twilight sky was a Mediterranean azure, streaked with crimson. My metaphors were spinning out of control. Now I was really in trouble–I was thinking like a bad garden writer. I had to snap out of it.

Reeling, I stepped back and fell…into a patch of Euphorbia polychroma. Cushion spurge. It did cushion my fall, but I was going to itch for weeks. Dermatitis is my middle name. (Some people think it’s Sebastian, but that’s a ruse. Or a gambit. I’m not sure which.)

When I looked up, she was gone.

I never did figure out why things were too perfect. Or why she was in trouble. And I’ll never forget the smell of her in that garden.

To this day, the scent of cherry pie sends me reaching for the 10 percent solution.

Here’s looking at you, Sam.

categories

Espoma Advertisement

Midwest Groundcovers Advertisement

popular

Article Thumbnail
Departments
From the Editor - MarApr 2016

In the Merry Hall trilogy, a series that ranks high among the world’s great garden classics, the English journalist Beverley …


Article Thumbnail
Columns
Dream of This

Hard to pronounce, easy to grow, Kolkwitzia Dream Catcher™ was worth waiting for.


Article Thumbnail
Columns
Mike’s Very, Very, Last, Absolutely Final and Never EVER to Be Repeated Holiday Hort Singalong!

Well, folks, you knew you were living on borrowed time. I didn’t realize it, but so was I. But when the FBI and Walt Disney …


Article Thumbnail
Blog
Signs of Spring?

So here I am, wandering around with my nose towards the ground, scrounging for signs of spring. I’ve found a few — snowdrops ...


Article Thumbnail
Features
Butterfly Heaven

This Chicago garden attracts an astonishing variety of butterflies thanks to the biodiversity it offers in a neighborhood.


questions

I’d like to know the secret to growing a decent-sized pumpkin for jack-o-lanterns for the grandkids and for decorating. My experience in recent years is that they get about as big as a basketball and then begin to rot. What am I doing wrong?

My Siberian iris ‘Gracilis’ plants have only one bloom per clump. I have five 3 to 5 year-old clumps that are 8 to 10 inches wide. They do not appear to be crowded. All are planted in a moist area. Why is there only one bloom per clump?

Is it possible to plant and grow Italian cypress in the Chicago area? Are our winters too severe for it? If they are, is there an alternative conifer that will provide a similar look?

ChicagolandGardening Advertisement