“Let’s pay a visit to Arte Tropicale,” Michael suggested the next morning.
This was our neighborhood nursery, situated in a well-tended compound across the road from Superdescuentos Morales.
“Great,” I chirped, all too happy to have his laser-like attention focused on the most derelict sector of our domain.
The proprietress of Arte Tropicale was seldom “in the yard,” so to speak. But never fear.
Her neat little cottage was perched on the other side of the nursery grounds, and when you came to her gate you simply rang the bell and before long she would emerge from her house and scuttle between the lush plants to unfasten the latch with a coquettish smile.
“Hola!” she cried that morning. “You are back!” Her enthusiasm was particularly admirable when you considered that we had clearly interrupted her telenova, which we could hear blaring all the way across the yard.
“Si,” Michael replied, grinning from ear to ear. “We make a jardín.”
Her mood visibly escalated from delighted to ecstatic at this news. She may have loved her soap operas, but at the end of the day she was a merchant with a business to run. How, after all, could she afford her precious Satellite TV if she didn’t turn a profit?
“You need many plants?” she asked with relish.
Michael looked around the well-maintained nursery. “Well…a few. It’s a jardín poquito.”
These were surely unwelcome tidings but she maintained her beatific smile.
“Poquito?” she asked, with perhaps one less teaspoon of sugar in her voice.
“Si,” Michael confirmed. “One jardín con sol, one jardín sin sol.” He was really giving his Spanish a trot around the track today.
“Ah,” she said, smiling broadly. “First, sol.” She strode outside and, with a sweeping gesture vaguely reminiscent of a game show hostess…
…indicated her selection of “sunny” plants.
“How about these?” I said to Michael, pointing to a bed of tall, lush plants with dramatic Bird-of-Paradise-like flowers.
His eyes swept over them. “Perfect.” He bent down to read the label. “Heliconia…” He paused, fumbling for a piece of paper in his pocket. “Hey, this is the plant our neighbor told us not to plant in the sun!”
I rolled my eyes. “Gee, imagine my shock.”
We both glanced at the nursery lady, who was smiling in a distracted manner while surreptitiously consulting her watch. Maybe a new telenova was about to begin.
“And what about shade plants?” I asked Michael. We strode over to the covered section of the yard. Here we found three varieties we liked, including a lovely Calathea…
…which (according to our notes) our neighbor had expressly recommended for full sunlight.
Was it a coincidence that his advice had been exactly backwards? Or was he just so perma-drunk he didn’t know the difference between sun and shade?
Now we were thoroughly confused. Meanwhile, Señora was looking distinctly antsy.
“Let’s buy a bunch of both and decide where to put what when we get home,” Michael suggested.
Always a sucker for wishy-washy compromises, I agreed. “Perfect solution.”
After helping us load up our car the Señora waved us off with a sweet smile tinged with relief. As we drove away she could be seen positively sprinting toward her house.
Back home, we planted everything according to instructions and gave it all a thorough drink of water.
During his stroll around the garden the next morning Michael discovered to his horror that three of our new plants were missing.
Let’s be clear here. They weren’t dead, they weren’t looking slightly-less-healthy than they had the day before.
They were gone, their absence commemorated by gaping holes in the ground.
We scratched our respective heads.
I wondered out loud if our neighbor had been so offended we hadn’t taken his advice that he’d dug up our fledgling plants, but Michael guffawed at the very idea that he was capable of following through with such a sustained act of, well, anything. Good point.
Then what could it be?
Neighborhood kids looking for a bit of harmless mischief? Doubtful.
It was Jane who finally solved the mystery.
Driving by later that day she saw a horse chowing down on our Calathea. She stopped and shooed him away but not before he’d made mincemeat of half of our horticultural investment.
Now what? we asked.
“Well, personally, I’d go for things horses don’t like.”
“Okay,” I agreed. “And what would that be?”
“Hmm…” she said. “Not really my department. Ask the nursery lady.”
Señora Arte Tropicale greeting us warmly, if somewhat distractedly, the next morning. Sounds of high drama emanated from her living room.
She listened sympathetically to our problem, and was all too delighted to sell us a carload of horse-proof plants.
Our reconstituted garden looked beautiful. Better still, our neighborhood horses took one look, shook their heads and moved on to more palatable pastures.
Another small victory for our side.