My Sacramento neighborhood, not far from the confluence of the American and Sacramento rivers, is lush and green. Neighbors on our horseshoe-shaped street care for their yards, and most, like me, do it with the help of gardeners. In summer, it’s dotted with color, beds full of flowers crying out loud.
There’s a distinctly California feel to the plantings, although there are foreign and exotic touches. The people down the street have impressive Italian cypress and a few have graceful Japanese maples in their yards. There are magnolia trees and hibiscus. But, many gardens, including mine, are transitioning to drought-tolerant native plants — less showy, more enduring.
My fences are rotten and need to be replaced, but I’ve put that project off until I have more time and money. My sons have set new posts and from time to time tacked up new dog-ear planks. They’ve begged me to address the fence problem. But, gaps in the worn out boards offer slivers of life on my quiet street so I’m in no hurry to make repairs, choosing instead to spy on the passing world in my little corner.
In summer my crape myrtle blooms magenta, Nile lilies open their white faces and smile with lavender lips at the relentless sun then the blooms clutch into wrinkled fists and drop. Monkey flowers, some would call them weeds, squint their yellow eyes, pop open with amazement at being alive, before fluttering spent petals to the dirt. I’ve created a wild scene of roses, butterfly bush, old-fashioned hydrangea, coreopsis, crowns of thorns and grand sweeps of lavender across my long, street-side bed.
I live outside in my garden about nine months out of the year — drinking coffee on the patio, snipping and watering, supervising pests who come to do damage, composing writing in my head. I pace and make up dialog, cuss to myself about structural knots in my writing, make notes, read. My garden is my writer’s studio, my sanctuary, my self-contained world.
Way back, along the street side, is my hidden garden — it’s where I put my orphan plants — those too weak or ugly for front and center planting. Some of them survive and find honored places in my yards. I love my orphans, but they’re planted outside the rotten side yard fence and I don’t see them every day. I admit I don’t visit them often enough, which I’ve discovered can cause a lot more than a horticultural problem.
A letter came the other day from the City of Sacramento. It began, “It has been reported that there is graffiti on the property you own . . . the sudden appearance of graffiti is often caused by vandals seeking attention and notoriety through criminal acts or as a method of communication between gangs.”
Jolted, I read on. The notice said the law requires graffiti be removed “as soon as possible” and “failure to abate such graffiti, and/or pay all related costs (for removal) may result in a Declaration of Public Nuisance being recorded against your property. A lien may also be placed against your property for failure to pay removal costs.” The letter included a color photo of the fence behind my orphan’s garden.
I ran outside, halfway down the block, to find this —-.