- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
Ships from: Lakewood, OH
Usually ships in 1-2 business days
If you wish to make anything grow you must understand
it, and you must understand it in a very real sense.
RUSSELL PAGE, The Education of a Gardener
Tristan Mallory looked in the rearview mirror of his truck as he switched lanes. Good. Peter, with Roger, just two cars behind, was negotiating to get into the right lane. Hopefully he would not miss the exit for 93 as he did last time. The notion of a nineteen-year-old kid endlessly circling Boston on Route 128 with a hundred thousand dollars' worth of grading equipment in a truck was an unsettling one. Tristan himself hauled a few tons of stone, a remarkable stone that was the offspring of the geological version of a shotgun marriage, first forged in some Paleozoic cauldron when an ocean plate took a dive into a trench and came up with scraps from which the future Appalachian and Caledonian mountains would be built. When Scotland, along with the rest of Europe, decided to break off from North America and sail majestically eastward at the stately pace of a few inches per millennium, this lovely deep gray stone with slate blue markings was left on both edges of the newly formed continents.
Last night, Tristan had talked with Luigi, who had promised to have his men there to help with the unloading. Luigi would then cut the stones so that Tristan could lay them in a half-split half-saw pattern, which he felt gave alovely texture to paths in lawns that tended toward the overly manicured, as was the case with this garden.
These were nice people, the Steins. Recently moved from New York, they had seen Tristan's work in Litchfield, Connecticut, and some gardens in the Hamptons on Long Island. But Tristan always worried about women who wanted to do white gardens, renditions of Vita Sackville-West's white garden at Sissinghurst. That was what Judith Stein wanted. It wasn't that he objected to relying on someone else's original inspiration. The women were always careful to say that they did not want an exact copy and assured him that it was to have his indelible stamp. He always wondered what they thought his indelible stamp was.
No, it was not the ghosts of Sackville-West and Sissinghurst gardens that disturbed him. It was the women's own ghosts that he worried about. What was haunting these suddenly rich women who often had come from very simple backgrounds? Was he being overly romantic, or hadn't these women often grown up in places where folks had patios with whiskey tubs spilling with petunias and creeping phlox, or nice little kitchen gardens stuffed with cherry tomato plants, herbs, and lettuces; or, maybe, even farms with fields of corn, soy beans, and alfalfa, and then, too, half-acre vegetable plots crawling with melons and sprouting trellises of pole beans. All of them good honest gardens. Tristan didn't get it. Didn't they want to hang on to any of those first connections with flowers, things blooming, the earth? Where the hell did they come up with Sissinghurst? Tristan wondered if these women had any stories of their own to tell in their gardens, any real narratives. It was almost as if once these women had arrived at the lifestyles they had so rigorously sought, married the men who could buy them everything, they gave up their own stories. The gardens seem to come to the women as full-blown ideas in their heads, independent of their own personal histories or even the particular landscape or countryside where they would grow. It became a dangerous business in which gardens were not shaped by topography and soil but were inflicted upon a landscape.
The Sullivan Square exit was coming up. Peter was right behind him now. Miss this one and you're headed for the Cape. The down ramp was clear at this early hour of the morning and they were soon cutting across Somerville to Cambridge. Tristan always marveled at how quickly the entire feeling changed once one crossed the Somerville-Cambridge line. Seedy mom-and-pop shops vanished. Furniture stores with horrendously ugly bedroom sets crammed into windows gave way to discreet emporiums for buying bread or exotic coffee beans. The concrete sidewalks turned into brick ones. Students, elderly professors with berets, and stout well-shod older ladies with dogs on leashes could be spotted on every corner. Tristan made it a point, even early in the morning, to avoid Harvard Square. So he turned away from the square and went instead around the Cambridge Common. Then he turned down Mason Street which took him in one short block on to hallowed Brattle Street, Tory Row as it had once been called in its colonial days. The largest houses with the largest trees were on Brattle. No property here could be touched for under a million these days. It was the address to have in Cambridge.
Equally expensive and prestigious were homes on the two or three cul-de-sacs directly off Brattle. The Steins had gotten their hands on one of these, a real showcase. Designed by H. H. Richardson in the late 1800s, the house was a sprawling shingled behemoth with twenty-five rooms. There was a deep backyard with easy access for bulldozers, backhoes, and any of the heavy scraping equipment that Tristan wanted to use. A landscaper's dream in terms of access. Too bad that Judith Stein didn't want to do more with really big rocks—a Japanese garden. He could have brought in some five-ton granite beauties and created something worthy of a Japanese silk scroll.
There were only two other houses on the cul-de-sac, an imposing Federal-style clapboard, dating earlier than the Richardson, and then a stucco, rather elegant if slightly past its prime even though thirty years younger than the other two. The walls of the stucco were the color of cognac and they crawled with ivy that threaded through the dark green shutters, threatening to pull them off their hinges. The tarnished brass knocker on the front door appeared as if it might groan from disuse rather than actually knock. The house itself seemed to crouch in the shadows of the Richardson. Still it had character, a somewhat mysterious quality to it that always caused Tristan to pause a moment as he pulled up to the Steins.
He would hate to think of a white garden in a place like the stucco house. There were of course very few places in a city, even a small city like Cambridge, that would lend themselves to wildness, but this one, the stucco, possibly could. Even in the most formal of gardens there was, in Tristan's mind, always room for something a little unkempt, a little wild—a woodland corner, perhaps, sequestered somewhere within the shadows.
Luigi was waiting for him, as was a truck with a half ton of crushed gravel. Tristan reached over the back of his seat, fished out the cardboard tube with the site plans, and got out of the truck. He was tall, his silvery hair close cropped. His face already tan from the spring work was scored by white squint lines that flared from his eyes to his temples. He didn't wear his sunglasses as he had when he was younger because he needed his reading glasses to look at the plans. Sometimes he resorted to wearing his reading glasses under his sunglasses but that could be awkward.
"Buon giorno, Luigi."
"How ya doin', Mr. Mallory. Here, I want you to meet my nephew Al and my other nephew Gian Franco, and here's my wife's younger brother—you know Tony, he was on that job with us in Concord."
"Oh sure, Tony. How ya doin'?" Tristan shook hands. Luigi had an endless supply of nephews and brothers and brothers-in-law and cousins. They came in various sizes and shapes and all were adept with stone—wrestling, lifting, cutting, and shaping it. "So where you got your shop set up?"
"Out back," Luigi said, pointing, "where the lower terrace will be. Good water source. Don't even have to use the longest extensions. Terrific access. Place like this—I would have never believed it—not in Cambridge."
"Well, for what they paid for this place they should have good access," Tristan replied.
"What'd ya say the guy does, Mr. Mallory?"
"Ah, that explains it. How come he's not living in Wellesley? That's where the bankers all live—Wellesley and Dover."
"Don't ask me." Tristan shrugged.
The men walked around to the backyard. It was just 7:30 in the morning and Tristan was pleased to see that the tracked bulldozer he had rented from Perrelli Construction was already there. It crouched like a sleeping beast in the middle of the leveled space awaiting its first command. The grade stakes were all still in place but Tristan would check them again. On a huge mound of stripped-off topsoil a woman in her early forties stood in a raincoat. The hem of her nightgown showed. She held a mug of coffee in her hand as she surveyed her domain, now scraped bare. The featureless expanse was interrupted only by the tracked bulldozer and then the scoring of trenches for utilities—pipes and electrical cables.
"Hello, Mrs. Stein."
"Judith please, Tristan, call me Judith."
"Okay, Judith. Well, today it begins." And as if on cue a tinkety staccato cough of the Alden grader starting up fractured the stillness of the morning. From the rear access lane behind the property the yellow claws appeared. Then underneath the claws there was a set of adjustable blades.
"What's that?" Judith Stein asked.
"Kind of cute, isn't it? Like a baby dinosaur. It's our favorite high-wheeled grader. Your boys up yet?"
"Well, get them out here. This is their day. You should let them skip school. It's a Tonka toy dream come true today."
Judith Stein smiled. Tristan was looking out at the machinery that Peter and Roger were driving into the yard. Tanned already, with deep vertical lines scoring his cheeks and that silvery gray hair, Tristan Mallory wasn't hard to look at. She wondered how old he was. At least sixty. "Do you have children?" she asked.
"I've got grandchildren," he replied.
"They must love having a grandfather like you."
"Don't get to see them enough. They live out in California. I go holidays, but it's not the same." Tristan wasn't sure what he meant by "the same." He figured that people do not precisely imagine their lives as grandparents, but having raised his daughters by himself since they were fairly young he had, he supposed, thought of the grandchildren just being nearby, constantly around. He had made how many thousands of foldover jelly sandwiches for the girls? And now it occurred to him that he had never made any for little Tristan, or Timmy, or Mary. There was a small twinge someplace deep inside, and then suddenly he felt ridiculous. He turned abruptly to Judith Stein. "Have you talked to the people next door about the wall yet?"
"Bill has a date tonight to talk with her children. She hasn't been well. Actually it's the son he's going to talk to. The woman, Mrs. Welles, is a widow. We haven't met her since we moved in."
"The wall hasn't been well for a long time. We've reinforced it as best we can from this side," Tristan said. "I mean it's a pretty wall, the faded brick, the coping on top. You don't want to take it down entirely. Seems like they should share the costs of doing a really nice job on it."
It seemed like an unimportant issue to Judith Stein whether they shared in the costs or not. "If they don't want to it's no problem. We'll take care of the whole thing."
He knew they would. These were the kind of people who just did not consider that money should ever be an obstacle to anything.
"Well, got to get to work." He sidestepped nimbly down the steep slope of topsoil and walked in long graceful strides across the bare ground toward the two young men who stood by the scraper and the Bobcat. Judith Stein watched as he unfurled a set of plans and began pointing at grading sticks that marked the property. She closed her eyes a moment and willed a vision of the central arbor at Sissinghurst laden with alabaster Rosa mulliganii.
Posted March 1, 2009
Every older woman should read this book - whether they are happily married or still hoping - but its magic is that it is not just an older persons' love story, it is that it's a love story of seeing beyond the obvious, looking at the whole and knowing the heart. True beauty!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 7, 2008
The librarians at our local library had this book listed on their recommended list. I can see why. The book is from 1999....but I just discovered it. I too hoped it would never end....and could not put it down. What a moving story. I felt as if I knew Maggie and Tristan. This will stay with me for a long time. I plan to buy my own copy...to keep and re read at times.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 24, 2003
Beautifully written book. The central character, Maggie, is a delight and a fiesty old soul. Even though I was saddened a little by the ending, I couldn't help buy smile when I thought of Maggie and Tristan.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 30, 2000
Posted March 28, 2000
I loved this book. The tender way it was written makes the reader really feel part of Maggie's life. I was sad when it ended and wanted it to go on longer. I hope E.L. Swann writes more because I love her style. Even if you are not a gardner, you will love this book, truely romantic and refreshing!!!!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 23, 2000
I very much enjoyed this bittersweet love story. Parts of it stayed with me for days. Gardeners will enjoy the very specific plant references while those of us approaching our autumn years will appreciate the sensitive treatment of late blooming love. Oh the possibilities...Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 5, 2009
No text was provided for this review.