dent of a garden club. But the people who moved into the cottage after her had let the gardens grow wild with weeds.
When Bonnie performed her magic, however, the flowers responded. They thrived. A huge bush on the side of the house that had stopped blooming came alive, bearing dozens of blossoms so fragrant that they filled the yard with perfume.
And where the grass had stopped growing in patches because of the black walnut trees that hovered around the house, Bonnie had the dirt tested, then hauled in piles of rich, black top soil.
“She would never wait until I had it weed and grass free,” says Sandy. “She couldn’t wait that long.”
Instead, Bonnie would be right out in the yard digging.
“I’d be yelling, ‘Could we just get the grass out of it first?’” says Sandy. “So that’s why a lot of the beds have grass in them. That’s why it ended up with the ‘cottage look.’”
And every year, Bonnie would order more flowers, more tulip bulbs—yellow, red, purple, doubles, tulips with feathered edges—all planted randomly in a riot of color that resembled an artist’s palette. And each year the garden grew bigger and denser with flowers.
Admiring their creation
People driving past would stop and admire Bonnie’s work. They’d take pictures or leave notes, especially about the tulips and how beautiful they were.
Sometimes Bonnie and Sandy would sit outside in the middle of the flowers, reading. And then Bonnie would get up and wander off with her camera, snapping photos of a weed or flower, stopping briefly by their horses before slipping down to the creek for more pictures.
Then, Bonnie was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Still, even as she grew sicker and began to lose her strength, Bonnie would be out there with her flowers, planting, taking pictures, and painting.
Bonnie died in 2005. Sandy remembers that the very evening her sister died, a Federal Express truck pulled in the driveway with pink and purple tulip bulbs Bonnie had ordered. Sandy planted them the next day.
“There was a lot of crying,” she says, tears coming to her eyes even at the memory. “But you’ll notice they’re all planted in one patch, all the same color.” She wipes her eyes dry and continues. “I’m sure Bonnie had planned to scatter them in the middle of her yellows and reds.”
So it was a bittersweet experience. Grief, because Bonnie wasn’t there to plant the bulbs she ordered and watch her flowers grow. Sad, because if she had lived, Sandy would have loved to have seen how the garden would have developed. But a sense of victory, too, because at last, Sandy could have a hand in the artist’s garden canvas also. A victory,
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yes, but in a sad sort of way. Unfortunately, after Bonnie died,
the tulips became shorter and more stunted.
“And then it occurred to me one day that maybe they needed fertilizer,” says Sandy. “So I fertilized them, and they got incredibly tall.”
She points to one that is hip-high. “I might have overdone it, but they
seem like they like it here. They seem to thrive.”
It’s hard to say how many tulips come up each year because in among the profusion of kinds, some are early bloomers, some mid-season bloomers, and some that blossom at the end of the season. Besides, Sandy continues to plant bulbs herself now. Whenever she discovers a bare spot, she takes photos to remind her to fill it in with bulbs in the fall.
And even though she still likes a tidy garden with straight, color-coded rows, she won’t change her “cottage garden.”
“It reminds me of her,” she says. “No, I could never change it because they’re hers.”
Sandy carries a sketchbook with her instead of her sister’s camera. She doesn’t like to work from photos but likes to sketch when the mood strikes her.
And though she actually likes the irises best, the tulips have their own charm.
“It’s a long winter,” she says. “When they first come up, you’re so excited to see them.”
Of course, there are other flowers that bloom before tulips, she says, but when crocuses and such appear, it’s too cold to sit outside and enjoy them. Tulips, on the other hand, come at a time when there might be an early summery day or two, one where she can sit outside in her garden at a table. Or invite friends over for a garden party.
In fact, she sits outside today with a glass of white wine in one hand, surrounded by Bonnie’s tulips, listening to birds noisy with their songs. Occasionally, a rabbit will scamper by. At night, she falls asleep to the chorus of tree frogs, and in the morning, she looks out her second-story bedroom window to see the tulips—hundreds of them planted randomly in curvy beds.
Sometimes it seems like a miracle to see them there. As if they’ve somehow come up all by themselves because she had so little to do with the garden in the beginning. And then she remembers her sister planting and planting, a little here, a little there.
“She must have had a plan for all this, but to me, it’s like it all just happened,” she says. “And every year when it wakes up, it’s so pretty.”
Her sister has been gone for seven years now, but the flowers are like a gift that keeps coming.
“They used to make me cry,” Sandy says, “but now they just make me smile.”