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Construction of a Last Ditch Garden photo

Step 1. 

One day, recognize your malformed loneliness like a tumor in your throat. Standing in the scabby patch of earth behind your home, sip coffee, and determine to resist via cultivation. Via flowering shrubs, water flowing louder than the pump that moves it, soil knitted to food that will nourish your body if only you remember to eat. Feel her growing in your throat. You hear her: fists beating a tattoo that confuses itself with your pulse, a tickle you can’t help but clear. Cover your mouth with the handkerchief from your sister’s wedding. Consider your options, strengthen your resolve.  


Step 2. 

Dig a hole in the far corner of the yard where the fence-lines meet. Mount the return for the pump high above your soon-to-be pond: that nice, thick sound will soon block out the chatter of ghosts. Your pond will need a liner, but order nothing online; there’s no such thing as free shipping. The pond is the epicenter of the garden, the garden the epicenter of your self: shop local whenever possible; barter when you can. Scavenge supplies from junk piles on the curb; their ties to the troubles of this world will be tenuous as spider silk--this is how you protect her. Stack rocks around the edges of your pond and dump fill-dirt in the crevices.


Step 3.

When entering the garden, you want to hear, not see, the water feature. It will draw you through the greenery like a fish on the line. Select your plants and lay out the largest first; do your best to block the view of the pond. Hide it with gardenia and camellia, with native grass and honeysuckle, ivy creeping over the ground and choking out its neighbors, flowers and herbs, vegetable starts from your local nursery. The pond will be a world of its own and will contain a completeness you can settle into. Pile compost at the base of each plant; turn it gently into the soil like tucking a child into bed. Stagger any paths you build in order to confuse the spirits that inevitably find their way to you.


Step 4. 

Purchase a hose; mist the flowers and fill the pond; turn on the pump to get the water moving; store your spade. Step back and survey what you’ve made. Shut your eyes and listen, water plummeting into the hole you dug, plants drifting on the ripples of a surface that, like you, refuses to break at the edges. It’s okay to rest; you can go inside for a while if you want; she’s not going anywhere. 


Step 5. 

Crawl to the pond. Open wide: let the tip of your tongue brush the brickwork like a red carpet. When she tiptoes from the back of your throat, tickling your uvula and leaving lilliputian footprints on the fur of your tongue, try not to gag. Her feet will taste like rotten plums. Don’t dress her; remember your place. She already knows how to swim so leave well enough alone. The frogs won’t bother her, or the moles, or the field mice, or any fish in the pod, or the dragonflies darting overhead, okay? You are the only danger posed. 

Your job from here on out is that of groundskeeper. Keep the weeds at bay and the foliage back from the paths. Hang plastic bags of water to distract the ghosts. You may feel free to watch her: her calf muscle like a pea bulging beneath the pod; her hair a tuft of rabbit down. It is remarkable and alarming, sure, how she climbs the pond’s edge and leaps into the depths, how she seems to dent rather than split the water, as though it’s sealed in plastic wrap. It is remarkable, but don’t remark. If she speaks to you, listen; if she leaves, let her go. If she dies you may grieve but not mourn. And when the time does come, bury her in a walnut shell. We’re all gravebound to stories we’d rather escape.

image: Aaron Burch