The Virtuosic Neighbor
He moved into the neighborhood a few years after my arrival. He was peculiar in the sense he was immediately involved in the positive evolvement of this blossoming community... a community occupied by a wide diversity of ages, races, cultures, religions, and political beliefs; thus personalities.
However, the residents of this eclectic community had one common denominator which served to unite us all, gardening of all kinds. We all took immense pride in our creations; though many times our fruitages proved to be fruitless. Most of us prevailed, but many of us wilted, just as our tilled and pampered gardens.
He was one who not only prevailed, but helped others find their perfect niche’ in the art of gardens.
I remember the day he arrived, very well.
It was an early morning and I was trying to salvage my passion, which wasn’t thriving as I had hoped. He was whistling a happy tune, which rivaled the vociferous birds in the trees, all the while nailing a huge WELCOME sign to his front porch. Little did I know, this was a demonstrable sign of a neighbor which would make his mark in this community long after he was gone.
I was fortunate to live next door to this adorable character. My small, humble home was marked with a white picket fence. Along the length and width were divided plots of different flora. A garden a Canta Lilies, followed by a garden of Hyacinths, then Orchids, etc. I refused to mix them, for I felt I needed to keep each garden in perfect form and color harmony. My efforts of love and attention became obsessive, but my gardens left much to be desired. Each garden plot presented an issue, and thriving was a challenge.
Even through all his busy-ness, he noticed my struggle and my discouragement toward my gardens’ upkeep. He jaunted over with such enthusiasm, it sent decisively positive vibes through my soul.
He reached his hand over the fence as a gesture to shake “Welcome! You certainly have a promise of beauty going here! I am Sunny Allheart.
I stared into his bright eyes and held out my hand to shake. “Well Mr. All Heart, shouldn’t I be the one to be welcoming you? I am Jimi, better known as jlsavell here. Oh, and thank you for the compliment, but I am afraid I am quite unaccomplished when it comes to gardening. By the way, welcome to our community. What brings you here?”
He chuckled heartily, then answered, “ Well, gardening, of course... along with creating interesting lawn sculptures, like our neighbor to the right of me. He can sure tell some interesting stories with those sculptures. It is my sincere hope that I may become as adept as all of you at many kinds of gardens and sculptures. It’s exciting.”
All the while he was talking, he was walking the length of my fence toward my backyard. I put the hose down to follow lead, then replied, “ Of course! What a silly question. How much do you know about gardening? The question doesn’t really matter, because in our world, everyone is welcome, from beginners to pros. We are all here to help each other grow. By the way, I noticed you do play a lot of music. I love music, so it doesn’t bother me.”
“Ahh, I wouldn’t say I was a beginner, but creating is my passion. There is just something so magical about gardens; especially when one goes to great lengths to nurture its growth and blossoming. I am thrilled you love music. To me, music inspires the creation of gardens and sculptures, too!”
He kept a few paces ahead of me, then stopped at the gate to my back lawn. I sensed he wanted to stroll through it. I was apprehensive and a tad embarrassed, as my backyard left much to be envied, a place I just dabbled in. Its only cohesive nature was that it was just one big garden of a huge variety of flora. Seeds which had magically planted themselves without permission: lavender, daisies, asters, columbine. Each grew to different heights and bloomed beautifully. An electric profusion of color and an explosion of scents mingled in the air. I hadn’t created borders, for my intention was to transplant each plant in its own plot, but I began to grow fond of its beauty, though it had no sense of organization.
I invited him in, and as he opened the gate, he remarked “I really like your backyard! This is what I call an English Cottage Garden. It’s beautiful really- one of the best I have seen.”
I thought him to be a bit overly exuberant, and though it was beginning to grow on me, I still preferred delineation in my gardens.
“One of the best you have seen? Mr. Allheart, I am afraid this mishmash of flowers and herbs is by accident. It has no rhyme nor reason...a product of my procrastination and carefree tossing of seedlings.
He stood for a moment, bending slightly to touch a lavender. “ Regardless of how it came to be, it’s gorgeous. I think you should pay more attention to it, develop it to its full potential. Though, I love defined gardens, I have a soft spot for this kind,too. You know Jimi, gardens are just like poetry.”
Though, I began to think of Mr Allheart as quite eccentric, I found him drawing, likeable, intelligent and interesting. I giggled “ Like poetry,how so?”
“Well a Cottage English Garden is like free verse, it doesn’t have to stay within the confines of strict control, doesn’t have to have a rhyme; though, its reason is subtle, subjective, and even more challenging than defined gardens such as sonnets, blank verse, etc. You have more flexibility as to its construction. Even with its compendium of different flora, they sway in harmony.”
“Most interesting, Mr.Allheart. Perhaps I should hone my skills in the perfection of a free style garden. Where are my manners, would you like a cup of lavender tea?”
He tilted his head to the side, fiddling with his short trimmed beard, “ Thank you so much, but I must be going... have much to do and attend to. Look, I see there are many gardening and lawn sculpture clubs in the neighborhood,but I don’t see anything of cottage gardens; though the neighborhood is filled with their beauty. I am starting a free style garden club where those interested can hone their skills by critique and suggestions, as well as promoting their beauty. Won’t you join? I think your backyard is a perfect example; this must be your natural gift.”
I blushed, for I was not accustomed to genuine compliments. “Thank you Mr.Allheart, I will. By the way, before you leave; you say gardens are like poetry, then what are lawn sculptures like?”
“ Lawn sculptures are much like prose. If wonderfully made and placed just right, they tell fascinating stories. I can’t wait to perfect my skills in lawn sculptures. Well, Jimi, I am happy to have met you and have enjoyed our conversation. I have much to do today. Hope to see you in my club soon. Oh, and by the way, why do you insist on calling me by my last name? “
I became embarrassed and it suddenly seemed childish for my reason, but I needed to answer. “ Well, Mr. Allheart, I realize my reason might sound crazy, but in my life I have known several Sunnys and most of them were dishonorable and unkind. My angst. Although, Sunny is a great name, it’s hard for me to speak. I apologize. If you prefer for me to call you Sunny, I will.”
He gave a wide grin and spoke in a masculine whisper. “ Aww, I understand. Then, Mr. Allheart it is. Just between us, eh? Take care sweet neighbor, hope to see you soon.”
The seasons passed and the club flourished. Each day I would see him working diligently in his yard or strolling the neighborhood mingling and helping others flourish, too. His lawns became a profusion of every kind of garden imaginable, and his lawn sculptures were always eye- catching and memorable.
My cottage garden took a life of its own, and I took great pride in it. To this, I owe this wonderful man for his support and encouragement. I became a passive participant in his club, for such is life. However, he always kept in touch, to encourage me.
The neighborhood adored him. He was always there to lend a helping hand and to help his neighbors in need. It wasn’t just about gardening. He, and many others, had grown exceptionally fond of one of the most prolific and wise gardeners on our street. Her garden was massive, prolific, and incredibly beautiful. She became ill, and as a result very frail. He organized and led a campaign to assist her in keeping her garden blooming and giving her encouragement daily.
Sadly, Sunny Allheart wasn’t with us too long before he grew very ill and passed away. Our hearts still grieve to this day. His warmth will eternally radiate among us. His gardens and sculptures still flourish with incredible spirit. His “Welcome” sign might well become weathered in time, but for now, it’s a stark reminder of a Herculean heart and an indomitable spirit who inspired us all.