Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Secret Garden

My tulips are done blooming but I thought I'd share some pictures anyway because tulips are my FAVORITE flower. They always have been...

I grew up across the street from a heavily wooded lot. We called it "the woods." Next door was a big empty field and down the road was the boat lot, where all the houses in the neighborhood (that didn't have lakeshore of their own) had a small plot of property on a lagoon to build a dock for lake access. We went fishing at the boat lot, played baseball in the field, and spent endless hours in the woods, building forts and exploring.

It was on one of those exploring adventures that I discovered the tulips. Big, bright red ones, almost as tall as I was, growing right at the edge of the woods. The dappled sun shining through the trees lit up the scarlet petals in a magical way. My sisters and I often brought home wildflowers we found in the woods (violetsdutchman's breechesbloodroot), so when I discovered the tulips, I picked one for my mom.

I was proudly tromping out of the woods clutching my perfect flower when I heard a voice from above. It was my friend's mom looking out her second story kitchen window, who happened to see me and called down "You shouldn't be picking Mrs. H's flowers!" I stopped in my tracks. The tulips were growing at the edge of the woods...right behind Mr. & Mrs. H's house. Was that actually her garden? I took off running! I considered dropping the flower (and proof of any wrong-doing) along the way but it was too perfect. Too beautiful. Its scent was intoxicating. It was my apple.

As planned, I brought the tulip home and gave it to my mom, although now knowing it was stolen goods, instead of proudly presenting it to her as I'd imagined, I timidly handed it over mumbling "This is for you." She made the big fuss that moms usually do, saying "thank you" and commenting on how pretty it was. Then she asked me where I found it.

I couldn't tell her I found it in the woods because then she'd figure out it came from Mrs. H's garden. I fumbled for an answer. Where could I pick flowers that didn't belong to anyone if not the woods? "The field," I told her and left the room.

I'd never in my life seen a tulip in the field, and neither had my mom, but she believed me nonetheless. Apparently, she just figured it came from an old abandoned garden out there. No one would miss it. She stuck it in a vase and put it on the windowsill.

Later that day (or maybe it was the next day), my friend's mom called. I doubt she was trying to get me in trouble, but my mom was always on the phone with her so the truth was bound to come out sooner or later. After she got off the phone, my mom asked me to tell her where I really found the tulip and I confessed that it came from Mrs. H's garden. I honestly thought that I had found a patch of tulips growing wild in the woods (I was only 5 years old - how was I to know tulips weren't wildflowers?), but I didn't tell my mom that. Luckily I only picked one. (Lord knows these days I would have come home with an armload!) At any rate, my mom told me we'd have to apologize to Mrs. H for picking one of her flowers. We walked across the street, the pilfered flower drooping from my hand, and rang her doorbell.

Now Mrs. H and her husband were one of the few elderly couples in our neighborhood. All of the older couples were very nice to us kids and this time was no exception. As I stared at my feet, she patiently listened to my apology, then sweetly told me she was happy to know someone else appreciated her garden, and sent me home smiling, with the treasured tulip nestled against my chest.

As the years went by, I often wondered about that secret garden at the edge of the woods. It turned out I never saw her lovely patch of red tulips again. They only bloom for a few days, so I had to be in just the right place at the right time to find them that first time. It made me wonder why anyone would plant a garden in the very back corner of their yard where no one could see it.

When we bought our house, I made sure to plant some tulips that first fall. Unfortunately, I planted them in the sun on the south side where they bloomed occasionally but never thrived. It took me a few years to realize that the flower bed under our front window gets plenty of sun in the spring before the trees start to leaf out. So last fall I bought a few bags of tulip bulbs, along with some daffodils and alliums, to plant under our front window. I was pretty exhausted after all that digging (I planted 100 bulbs!) but it was totally worth it this spring.

It made me so happy, just sitting in my living room with a cup of tea, admiring the colorful blooms bobbing in the breeze outside my window. And now I finally understand. Mrs. H's house had the garage in front, and the few small windows that faced the front yard looked out on the driveway, not the lawn. The back of her house had a walkout basement, which meant anything she could see from her living room window upstairs had to be way back in the the edge of the woods. She had other garden beds in her yard. One in the front that she probably only saw when leaving her house, a few scattered around the back and side yards, but only that one bed farthest from the house had tulips. She really must have loved tulips.


  1. lovely story! I love how well you remember all the details. And it's so funny that you didn't think to tell your mom that you didn't realize it was someone's garden...I remember that sort of thing happening to me as a kid, too...not thinking until later to put in the part about how it was a misunderstanding (it was ALWAYS a misunderstanding when I was a kid; I was far too much of a rule follower to do something wrong on purpose)

  2. Gorgeous Tulip pictures and that story is adorable! I'll have to remember to plant some tulips this fall.

  3. Tulips are my absolutely favorite flower too! Peonies are coming in a close second though!

    1. I love peonies too! Mine stopped blooming though. :-(