The divine fragrance of bright orange tea roses and sprigs of spicy scented Jasmine mingled in a plain mason jar on the window sill. Heavenly. The breeze through the open kitchen window dispersed the yummy scent throughout the kitchen better than the most expensive atomizer.
“I definitely prefer nature’s perfumes,” thought Poppy as she arranged the napkin and tea cup on the tray next to the fresh raspberry scone. “There,” she said out loud. “Nearly perfect…”
She broke off a small spray of Jasmine and one of the unopened rose buds from the arrangement on the windowsill, and placed them in a tiny bud vase. Settling it next to the bright orange teapot she smiled, satisfied. No matter that her mother would not appreciate the touch, or in fact any part of the beautiful arrangement. Poppy was long past caring about that sort of thing. It was years now since she came to the realization that living life on her mother’s dark and dreary terms was soul suicide. Having reached that conclusion, she had determinedly moved forward from that day on with an unstoppable sense of optimism and cheer. Perhaps in some small way to spite her mother, she also applied her natural artistic flair at every opportunity, and turned a deaf ear to her mother’s discontented muttering.
Turning her back on the tray, Poppy swished back to the counter next to the sink where the electric kettle lived. It was nearly boiling so she quickly switched it off and turned back to the tray to fill the teapot. Her mother liked her water ‘scalded, but not boiling’. Poppy had never discovered what the difference between these two were, so sometimes she let the water boil and sometimes she poured it just before it boiled. Her mother never seemed to notice any difference as long as Poppy assured her mother that yes, she had scalded it, so that was ok.
Squaring her shoulders, Poppy lifted the tray carefully and carried it through the sitting room into the solarium. Her mother was in her customary spot in the corner, with her back to the view, knitting as furiously as a 82 year old woman with fairly advanced arthritis could. No matter that it must really have caused her considerable pain, Catherine would just as soon be dead as without her knitting. Since her hearing was also diminished, she did not hear as Poppy stopped just inside the door and watched her. Catherine was small and frail, and for the millionth time, Poppy wondered how a tall, large-boned woman like herself had come from such a tiny woman.
Much later, after the tea things had been cleared, and her mother settled with a lap rug tucked tidily around her spindly legs, set to watch her favorite show, Poppy let herself quietly out the back door into the garden. An easterly wind was up and long silky tendrils of dark red hair pulled free of the knot at the nape of Poppy’s neck and danced wildly about her face. Her hair was truly beautiful and she was quite proud of the fact that, at 44, there was still no grey in it. Though she’d been told once by a boy in her class, on the eve of her 17th birthday, that she was the most beautiful girl in the world, Poppy had no illusions about her physical beauty. She knew she was considered plain by most of the folk in her hometown, and this bothered her not the least. In truth, while her features were not really remarkable in any way, time and experience had added a certain dignity to her face, and her naturally good nature added sparkle to her bright blue eyes and a spring to her step. She was among the precious few to be blessed with a sense of self so profound that she affected not the least bit of artifice. Of course, Poppy would have been amazed to hear such things about herself, for although she was quite the daydreamer, she was tremendously practical as well.
Poppy hummed as she futilely tucked the strands of hair behind her ears and surveyed the garden. Lots to do to get the garden in order. She was lucky to have Magnus Fahey, a still spry seventy something gardener and the local Jack of all trades, come every year to help with the cleanup in the fall and spring. The tying up of perennials, transplanting, and most of the weeding she could handle herself. Pruning the hedges and fruit trees was another matter. It wasn’t that she didn’t know how. But knowing how to do something and enjoying it were two different things. Poppy was more than content to pay Magnus twice a year to take care of this for her. In the fall, he pruned the fruit trees, often bringing his grandson Liam along, and Poppy always gave them a hand with barrowing the limbs and detritus off to the lower garden to be heaped for a late Spring bonfire. Come spring, the hedge trimmings were added to the already dry fall limbs and left to sit for a couple of weeks. Finally an appropriate afternoon, free of wind and rain, was settled upon and the bonfire started. This was perhaps the only perk of the entire process. A thermos of tea, jam sandwiches wrapped in wax paper, and she and Magnus could chat for hours, poking errant sticks back into the fire and gassing about the garden, local gossip, and the political suicide currently being contemplated by the Prime Minister and his cabinet.
This winter had been harsh, but short-lived. It was only March, but already the crocus and hyacinths were fully up and starting to show color. Daffs and tulips were clumped randomly throughout the borders, cheerfully heralding the news: ‘Spring is here!’ The trees were tightly budded and one or two were even beginning to leaf out.
While fall was Poppy’s favorite season, spring ran a close second. The promise of new life invigorated everything, like a freshly plucked bunch of orange lilies in a stark white room. Stepping into the garden for the first time each day felt, at least to Poppy, like a secret admirer had stolen into the garden in the night, and left little treasures for her to find. It was lovely.
With most afternoon spent outside, winter’s pallor, the result of too many cold months inside, quickly disappeared. Outside now more often than not, her fair skin freckled endearingly, smattering a light dusting over the bridge of her nose and forehead.
Her mother, never much of a gardener, had historically left the gardening to Poppy, and in Poppy’s opinion, that was just as well. Occasionally, Catherine could be found watching critically through the conservatory windows as Poppy cleared out beds, pulled weeds, and spread rich dark mulch from the compost pile over all of the beds, but for the most part she just left Poppy to it. Had she known what a gift she was giving Poppy, Catherine most likely would have found some excuse to insert herself more forcefully into the garden’s design and upkeep. As it was, she was content with an occasional critique or suggestion.
The garden in the spring was a place of solace for Poppy.
Here the northern wind wound fancifully around her, the sun darted in and out of the variety of seemingly ever present clouds, and the potpourri of blossomy smells emanating from the first blooms of spring was like having a perfumery in her very own back yard.
Here she allowed herself to remember long-ago summer evenings, rainstorms and summer houses, candlelit parties and afternoon teas. She lost herself to the memories of her brief and solitary experience with love, a girlhood tryst with a dashing boy that ended too soon.
And here, amongst the weeds and blossoms alike, Poppy dreamed.