Everybody’s Garden


Dirk set the tip of the shovel into the sod and pushed hard on it with his foot. The shovel made a crunchy sound as it cut through the tough grass that had started creeping into his mother’s iris garden. Although his arms and shoulders were tired, Dirk had to admit that the iris bed was beginning to look much better. Earlier his mother had told him that if he helped her Saturday morning he could do whatever he wanted in the afternoon.

While he was digging and shaking the soil from the tangled grass roots, Dirk thought about batting a few balls with Ethan, Rick, Chad, and some of his other friends over at the park. Spring had seemed so late that they’d hardly had any time for baseball practice.

Dirk set the shovel aside and went to get the rake to finish his job. His mother had been separating and thinning her iris plants while he worked and had a pile of them at one end of the garden.

“What are you going to do with all of those?” Dirk asked.

“Aunt Maria wants a few of the yellow ones. And Mrs. Cox asked me to save her half a dozen of the blue irises.” Mother shook her head. “It seems a pity.”

“A pity?” Dirk echoed.

“A pity to throw the rest away when they could brighten a yard somewhere. If we just knew someone who could make use of them.” Mother laughed. “But through the years as I’ve separated my plants, I’ve given starts to everyone in the neighborhood who had space. The neighbors have traded back and forth until every yard on the street is filled with flowers.”

“Not every yard,” Dirk said. And he looked surprised as an idea popped into his head. “Hey, Mom, may I have the extra irises?” he asked eagerly. “There is one spot on our street that doesn’t look good. You know, the old vacant lot that’s too little for a house. No one takes care of it.”

“That’s true,” Mother said. “Mr. McCarty lives right next door to it and kept the lot looking nice for years. But now he’s barely able to keep up his own yard and no one else has cared about doing it.”

Dirk nodded in agreement. “Everyone says it’s an eyesore, but no one does anything about it. People passing the lot often throw papers on it and the kids don’t care either. I guess we’re all to blame. Maybe we’d all be more careful if a few flowers were growing there, and iris plants spread fast.”

“And they don’t need as much water as most flowers do,” Mother added.

“I could carry water until they get started,” Dirk suggested. “I believe even a few flowers near the sidewalk at the front of that lot would make people think twice before they threw trash in there.”

“I’m sure they would,” Mother said. “You have a great idea, Dirk, and are welcome to all of the plants you want. Maybe I can even find a little time to help you later this afternoon.”

After lunch Dirk was so busy raking leaves and grass and rubbish from the spot he had chosen for planting his irises on the little lot that he hardly looked up. He collected three bags of rubbish before he cleared a spot large enough to suit him. Then he started spading up the earth. When Ethan saw Dirk digging he came across the street to find out what his friend was doing. “That looks like work!” Ethan said.

Dirk answered with a grin, “It’s work all right, but it’s fun.”

After he explained about the iris plants he asked, “Do you want to help me?”

Ethan thought for a moment and then he nodded. “I’ll go home and get a shovel. This old lot has looked awful for a long time.” In a few minutes Ethan came back with a shovel and a rake. He was grinning as he explained, “I told my mother about your idea and she thinks it’s great. She’s separating some big double shasta daisies and we can plant them right next to the fence. My dad says he’ll come help us after while.”

The boys worked fast, pausing only to grin at each other now and then. They were so busy they didn’t see Monica walk by until she asked them, “Why are you raking and digging in this old vacant lot?”

The boys explained about the iris plants and the daisies. In unison, they asked, “Want to help us?”

“The old lot looks better already,” Monica said. “I’ll be glad to help. I’ll go home and get a shovel.”

In a few minutes she was back with her older sister, Andrea, who carried a box with six peony plants to put near Ethan’s double shasta daisies.

Before Dirk had finished spading his iris bed, Chad came to see why they were all so busy and decided he wanted to help too. He went home for a rake and brought back four yellow rose bushes to put at the back of the little lot where they could grow tall against the back fence.

Mr. McCarty hobbled out to see what was going on next door. His eyes brightened with interest. “I’ve wished many times that I could still take care of this plot,” the old man said, smiling happily. “If you folks are willing to plant and care for some flowers, then the least I can do is provide the water for you. We can just pull my garden hose through the fence whenever the place needs watering.”

Dirk was grateful for Mr. McCarty’s offer for he hadn’t looked forward to carrying water to get all the plants started.

The afternoon went by quickly. With so many working together, there was a lot of talk and laughter and fun. Before the sun went down, nearly everyone on the street had come to help, to offer plants or fertilizer or hours of care to keep the garden blooming.

When they had finished and each family had taken a few boxes or bags of rubbish to put out with their own garbage, they all came back to look at their new garden.

“I believe that this will be the loveliest garden in our whole neighborhood,” said Mr. McCarty. “It’s a very special spot now because it’s everybody’s garden. Not only will we enjoy it, but everyone who walks or drives past will have a spot of beauty to enjoy in place of that awful eyesore.”

Everybody’s garden, Dirk thought happily as he walked home. It was going to be fun to have everyone working together to make something beautiful.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Mac Magleby