My hands are a mess. The knuckles on my left hand have disappeared and my middle finger is the size of a hand made sausage – meaty and bursting at the ends like the ones butchers used to make. My right thumb is in the same state and I notice as the swelling slowly subsides, due I am convinced to constant applications of Tiger Balm, small red pustules are forming. Like I said, a mess.
I don’t like wearing gloves when I’m gardening – I like the feel of loamy soil but sometimes forget that Texas dirt comes with fire ants. My garden now consists of a patio full of pots, mostly herbs. I was repotting in an attempt to defeat the five raccoons who descend nightly and dance amongst the mint, cilantro and parsley before sipping from the water well my husband has rather cleverly made, and then supping on the basil. My thinking was if the basil were tucked between the various mints, which they do not appear to like, the masked bandits might leave me enough basil for my pesto.
But before the fire ants bit and as my mind was pleasantly wandering to other gardens planted around the world and wondering what they now looked like, I was also reminded of an unforgivable thought, or rather lack of.
Last Wednesday four women met for a quiet drink in an out-of-the-way coffee shop that happens to serve a delicious grapefruity sauvignon blanc at four in the afternoon. We meet about once every six weeks so can hardly be called seasoned partiers but during the course of the last couple of years have got to know one another well. I thought.
I was however brought up short when one of the group mentioned in response to a comment made that she too had taken a gardening course. Nicola on further prompting then told us of her utter dismay when after finishing an eighteen month Royal Horticultural Society diploma and a year’s internship with Andrew Wilson, a well-known British society gardener, her husband had come home from work and announced a relocation to Houston, Texas. She had collected her new business cards that afternoon.
My dereliction, the one I had been ruminating on when the fire ants attacked, had been that I never enquired about her life before Texas apart from the usual where were you last ? type of query expatriates tend to make, particularly on learning the spouse is employed by an oil company.
It is a common oversight but one I thought I would never be party to. Too many times I have been judged a trailing spouse with the same ambitions as Milne’s bear, the one with very little brain and who is bothered by long words – concerned only about the pot of honey. But I did fall into that mould and for that I am ashamed.
Nicola like many expatriate spouses, remember they are now called STARS, had upped sticks, packed up home, said goodbye to her children who had decided to stay in Britain at boarding school and relocated across an ocean to support her husband’s career.
She had arrived; kick started the new-arrivee mode that many pack in their carry-on bag along with a spare pair of knickers and a toothbrush, and thrown herself into life without her children in her new surroundings. She did not mention the fledgingly career she had been carving out for herself in Surrey. She did not mention the profound disappointment that all her learning about landscaping, plant selection and design had to be put on hold – an English garden is very different to the more xeriscape-style of gardening required for the humid heat of Houston, with the threat of the occasional frost and snowfall.
And I hadn’t even asked what her life was about before Houston. I had assumed because she seemed pleased to be here, because she threw herself into making a new home, but not a garden, in Houston that her story was an open book; three TCK children, adaptable, flexible and friendly, and happy to relocate again.
Nicola does not want to put all her energies into her perfect garden to see only the first fruits of her labour before being relocated to another part of the world. I can understand that, never having seen any of my gardens come into full flower even if here I do have mint and basil, raccoons notwithstanding, but I’m determined to never again forget to dig deeper, and I might start to wear gardening gloves.
I was right about those first four – the kids and her attributes – but I was wrong about the last. Nicola might occasionally wonder what if? but few would ever know, and that is the mark of the STARS!