Compost, Mulch and Potting Soil: A Carding Chronicle

SH-SpireaWhat started out as a friendly kerfuffle about gardens among friends who enter the Carding Home and Garden Show  has turned into a fierce competition. Never has the Carding gardening community worked so hard. And so far, the only winner is Andy Cooper, the co-owner and manager of Carding’s general store.

He’s the only in-town source of gardening supplies, after all.

Let’s check in to see how preparations are progressing in this week’s Carding Chronicle, shall we?

Welcome to Carding, Vermont where life always includes a dash of the unexpected. You can find the little town that no one can seem to find on a map right here in the Carding Chronicles and in the four novels of Carding, Vermont, The Road Unsalted, Thieves of Fire, The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life, and Lights in Water, Dancing.

If you haven’t already, don’t forget to subscribe to the Chronicle by clicking the link on this page. That way, you’ll never miss a story.


Even though they owned Cooper’s General Store jointly—an inheritance from their Dad—Andy and Charlie Cooper had settled into an amicable division of labor when it came to its day-to-day operations.

Andy enjoyed the hands-on part of it all, making displays, ordering the seasonal items, relating to the customers (or not, as the case may be), and managing their employees.

Charlie, for his part of the deal, took on the paperwork part of the operation—watching over the accounts, calculating the correct profit margins on the items sold in the store, and taking care of all the legal ins and outs of running a small business in Vermont (of which there are many).

Each brother thought he had the better part of the deal so they were both content.

Charlie, now that he was semi-retired from his legal practice, made a habit of ambling through the back door of the Coop about mid-morning every Wednesday. He’d pour himself coffee from the community urn, nod and say hello to anyone who passed by, and then he’d heat up the computer to go through the finances.

Sooner or later, Andy would show up and after discussing the latest Red Sox game, the brothers would get down to business.

But today, Charlie skipped their detour into baseball and plunged right into the numbers on his meticulously kept spread sheets.

“What is this?” he asked, pointing to a rather large figure. “We’ve never sold that much compost, mulch, and potting soil in the whole history of the store. Is that figure correct?”

Andy chuckled, gave his tea a good stir so that the honey in it was evenly distributed throughout the mug instead of pooling at the bottom, and then sat down next to his “baby” brother.

“I’ve discovered a secret weapon in the town’s gardening wars,” he confided.

A small smile snaked over Charlie’s mouth when he recognized the onset of one of his brother’s storytelling moments.

“Do tell.”

“It’s name is G.G. Dieppe.” Andy sucked in a big slurp of tea.

“Anthony’s Dieppe’s wife? The millionaire of Mount Merino?”

“Yep, her. It seems she’s decided to enter the Home and Garden Tour with the idea of winning the best-in-show trophy,” Andy said. He slurped some more while waiting for Charlie to catch up.

“Ah, so that’s why Agnes is whirling around in our yard from dawn to dusk like a mad dervish,” Charlie said with a chuckle. Charlie’s life partner is Agnes Findley, widely acknowledged as the most meticulous gardener in Carding. “Do you know, she hardly came in long enough for supper last night. And I’d made her favorite pasta dish.”

Andy nodded. “Yep, they’ve all gone mad this year. Personally, I don’t think Edie or Ruth or Agnes cares if they win or not just so long as this G.G. character doesn’t.”

Charlie looked down at the spread sheets on the desk. “It’s been mighty good for business.”

“Yeah, and most of that is her,” Andy said. “I don’t think she’s ever picked up a trowel in her life. She just keeps saying that ‘all it takes is money.'”

The brothers Cooper shared a blue-eyed stare and then they both started to laugh. “Oh, this is going to be fun to watch,” Charlie said.

******

Holding her favorite clippers, Ruth Goodwin backed up slowly so that she could judge the impact of her assault on her hedge of Magic Carpet spirea. Many of its cotton candy-colored blooms had gone by and she wanted to make sure only the brightest ones were on display tomorrow morning when the judges arrived. For the first time in many years, winning the best-in-show trophy at the Carding Home and Garden Show was important to her.

She darted forward and SNIP went another dead blossom. Then SNIP SNIP and two more fell into her weed bucket.

There, she told herself, that’s as perfect as it’s gonna get.

She glanced at the sky though it didn’t look any different than it had ten minutes ago. Blue from horizon to horizon. After such a drippy start to the summer, the idea of watering her flowers seemed rather strange. She snapped off her gardening glove so she could slip a bare finger under the mulch to check the soil moisture. An earthworm glistened by, his morning repose interrupted by her probing.

“Sorry,” Ruth muttered as she hastened to cover him up. “Sorry.” Then she sighed. Who was she kidding? Even though her yard was a riot of color—pink spirea, yellow evening primrose, white valerian and elderberries, and red bee balm—no one would ever make the mistake of describing Ruth Goodwin’s garden as organized.

Ruth loved everything about the botanical world…except maybe poison ivy. But she loved to live in it, not dominate it.

“Oh well,” she said as she tossed her tools in their bucket. “Either Edie or Agnes will win and that’s all right by me.”

A car rolled by slowly just as Ruth closed her front door behind her. A second cup of tea was definitely in order.

From inside the car, G.G. Dieppe scanned Ruth’s yard. True, there was a lot in bloom. And true, it did look very pretty…but only from a distance. Even from the road, G.G. spotted some weediness along the edges of a circular raised bed.

“Hmph, no one’s going to find any weeds in my gardens,” she sniffed to herself. “They are perfect. The best that money can buy.”

Ruth watched through the lace curtains on her front windows as G.G. drove on.

“She just left,” she texted Agnes. “Probably headed your way.”

It took a few years but Agnes Findley had finally turned Charlie Cooper’s scruffy yard into a virtual Eden. The blue and purple blooms of spring had given way to the red of the climbing roses that sheltered the sunny end of their screened-in porch. Her hosta hedge, each plant placed so that its leaves complimented the plants on either side, was at the height of perfection.

Her collection of colorful pots added height and wonder to the landscape, and the hens and chicks lining the walkway to their front door had just started to share their peach-colored flowers.

They were Agnes’s specialty.

“Do you think I should stand out in the front yard to wave?” she asked Charlie as they crouched behind a hedge of limelight hydrangea that divided their front yard from the back.

Charlie nearly choked up his coffee. “I thought the idea was to be stealthy about your spying ways,” he said.

“Oh, I know. It’s just that I find that woman so irritating,” Agnes said, tapping her foot.

“And you don’t want her to win,” Charlie said.

“Yeah, that too.” They watched G.G. crawl by their house, her neck extended to its full length. “Gawd, how nosy can she be? Ah, there she goes. She must have found some imperfection. Well, so be it. At least maybe Edie or Ruth will win, and that’s fine by me.”

“You’d better text Edie,” Charlie said, trying to mask his grin. He couldn’t remember when he’d enjoyed a Home and Garden tour more. Who knew that watching gardeners could be so entertaining?


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