July 7, 2011


In Dante’s vision of hell, he reserves the fourth circle (Canto 7) for sinners guilty of avarice and envy. Of course it could be argued these sins are sprinkled throughout the Inferno as certainly the betrayer, Lucifer, who resides in the deepest pit, was motivated by envy of his Lord. Still despite the poet’s dreadful warnings against this sin, I confess I have been guilty of it.

(“Lucifer” by Gustave Dore)

Let me explain. By chance and geography, my garden resides in shade. For me there will never be poppies or geraniums lining the paths of my walk. No daisy will greet me with its yellow eye nor will I ever see a sunflower bending down to notice me. Nor can I ever succeed at coaxing ripe tomatoes from the vine. Not even the hardy zucchini will show a leaf, if planted. I am all hostas and ferns and trillium. Impatiens will put on a good show for a season. And bleeding hearts adorn my garden. I love these creatures of shade and am grateful for the variegated colors they provide but oh, what I wouldn’t give to see a brave dahlia make its home among the moss. Of course, mine are idle wishes and so, on my way to the park, I enjoy the sunny gardens of those who can plant roses with impunity. I feel no envy at these times and am grateful to the neighbors who share their flowers. But yesterday I discovered some treachery afoot.

I have a clematis that I dearly love, The Duchess of Alba, a many petaled white beauty that grows, not robustly, but elegantly along my eastern fence. She blooms twice each season, to my delight, but this year, I’ve seen nothing of her at all. And then I happened to wander past my neighbor’s side of the fence. There I saw hordes of white blossoms, their faces warmed by a sun that favors the east and not the west side of the fence. I confess my response was extreme. I cried aloud and harbored hard thoughts toward the Duchess. If I were a better person, I might have been happy for my neighbor, but all I felt was envy.

As it was a warm July afternoon, I retreated to the coolest spot in my garden. There, the dappled greens were welcoming. A passerby, seeing me standing in the shadows stopped to remark on the beauty of my plot and how nicely the plantings had been arranged. I thanked her for her compliment and after she had gone, I sat down on a wooden bench beneath a dogwood tree. The passerby had been correct. Mine was a lovely spot in which to while away a summer afternoon. I regret my earlier bout with envy as now I see there is a bright spot.

Should I ever be cast down into the fourth circle of Hell, I won’t despair. Where better to display my skills at shade gardening?