Sunday, November 24, 2013

In November

I was going to write about November, 1963 when I was in high school in Wilmette, Illinois and we rode to school every morning in Billy Anderson's 1962 blue Chevrolet convertible....... With the top up. The top was always up because it get's pretty cold in November on school days mornings at 7 a.m. We got in the car and rode to school, three miles.

But a story about high school is too depressing, so I have picked a much better November, one of my very best -- November, 1995, in New England, in the western suburbs of Boston -- Concord, Acton, Lexington, and Lancaster -- those old colonial towns.
Neil Jorgensen. That year I was working for Neil Jorgensen, the best landscape designer in New England. Neil was a geologist by education, so he knew his stones, and New England is practically built out of granite. More stones than soil -- I knew that from getting my hands on it. Neil could look at a hillside and describe what the glaciers had done to it.
Neil had won the Silver Medal from the Massachusetts Horticultural Society. He had customers lined up waiting for him to come and do their gardens. And when he came, Neil would tell his customers what he was going to do. You paid him well and you agreed to his overall plan. He was at the pinnacle of his profession.
Neil had vision -- he could see five years ahead. He could see in all four seasons. So if we planted a small tree in a certain place, it wasn't because of how it looked now, but how it would look in the springtime five years from now.
Neil had reached the highest stage of creative energy. You could hire a landscape designer and get a grade A design, and your friends and neighbors would praise the new garden and comment knowledgeably on this rose and that rhododendron and how the new path fitted the curve of the hill.
But that's not the highest level. Neil was above that. When you walked into one of Neil's gardens, you didn't notice the design. You just started to feel good. You began to have wonderful thoughts. You took a kinder attitude toward your family, you felt a blessing to mankind and all of nature. That is a good garden.

And Neil's gardens looked lovely too -- just not overdone, surprisingly simple in fact.

We worked through August, in the heat and humidity, swatting mosquitoes, dodging poison ivy. In September the weather got better and we felt new energy. We laughed and joked all day. We had beers and ate Reuben sandwiches for lunch. October was too glorious to even mention. October in New England is like heaven on earth, and we kept working.
By November it was grey and the leaves were down. Mornings were cold and stiff, but we kept planting, working extra hours, using all the dwindling daylight. We worked on Dr. Patel's garden until the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. It was snowing when we finished on the last day of the season, but the garden was done.
That was the best November I ever had.

Neil is retired now. He lives in Kittery, Maine by the sea, tending his favorite maples and English primroses. I might call him some day and see how he's doing.

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