Having more or less recovered from the shock of finding a goateed stranger living in our house, we took stock of our little slice of paradise.
We couldn’t help admitting that the house looked superb (snaps to Jane).
In fact, after puttering around for a couple of days touching up barely-discernible wall scratches, straightening pictures that were no more than a quarter-inch off plumb, and rearranging the fifty or sixty books in our bookcase, we ran out of things to do inside.
So we turned our attention to the garden.
By rights this was Michael’s province. Early in our relationship he had demonstrated a green-ish thumb by rescuing a couple of all-but-dead plants from my balcony and tenderly nursing them back to health.
Admittedly this could have been a fluke, except that he bought a spindly looking palm tree the following spring and fertilized, trimmed and cajoled it into a state of spectacular health by summer’s end. One August afternoon I actually saw a tourist turn his camera away from the stunning Gothic cathedral across the street from our building and train it instead upon the behemoth palm tree on Michael’s balcony.
Now that we were the proud owners of a small square of turf in Vieques, Michael set his jaw and resolved to bring order to the overgrown mess we’d inherited from the previous owners.
While the garden contained a number of impressive fruit trees, including breadfruit, avocado, lime and mango, it also boasted a variety of highly unusual garden ornaments:
- three massive concrete pylons originally intended to support a cistern before the project was abandoned;
- random blobs of concrete that had been unceremoniously dumped into the garden at the conclusion of earlier construction jobs;
- a highly-visible septic tank; and
- the rusted body of an old car.
Michael had taken all this in his stride. The concrete pylons, which we dubbed Stonehenge South”…
…had been the first to go—Daniel had actually overseen their dismantling during his brief tenure. He had also made sure the concrete blobs disappeared.
During her first months on the job Jane had hired a couple of guys to hack their way through the tangled thicket that had become our side yard, disentangle the Buick from the thick undergrowth, and haul it with long, thick ropes onto a flatbed truck and thence to the local landfill.
She then more or less reversed this process to solve the cistern problem; instead of hacking vines away, she encouraged them to run rampant over the offending structure until we could barely see it from the upstairs balcony.
As she often said, nature happens fast in Vieques.
Despite these Herculean efforts, the side yard remained singularly uninviting. The soil was sandy and hard, immature banana trees poked up randomly here and there, and the whole affair sloped downward at an alarming angle from our neighbor’s retaining wall at the top of the lot to our own crumbling wall at the bottom.
Daniel had suggested “terracing” it, as though it were a parterre at Versailles, and at the time we had rolled our eyes at the very idea.
But of course he was right. Endless truckloads of dirt would have to be brought in to make the space even remotely utilitarian, whether for a garden or, more ambitiously, a pool. And in either case some or all of the trees would have to go—an eventuality we weren’t prepared to face emotionally or financially.
In the meantime, Michael set his horticultural sights on less ambitious territory—the flower box running along the back of the house beside our neighbor’s driveway…
…and the triangular patch of dirt formed by the intersection of the driveway, the side of the house, and the short flight of concrete steps leading to the laundry and storage rooms on the bottom level.
Both areas were small, manageable, and woefully in need of attention.
And he was up for the challenge.