Green-Eyed Fingers

By Amy Chavez
For The Bali Times

I came home the other day and noticed my neighbor had cut my grass, trimmed my trees and watered my plants. This is normal. I thanked Wayan and he said, as always, “Oh, it was nothing.”
My “garden” has always been a dense untamed wilderness. Who knows what lurks inside that jungle — things that sting, bite and have venom. Possibly even tigers. I’ve never seen exactly how Wayan does it, but I imagine he enters the jungle in one of those head-to-toe protective bee outfits, with a bazooka in one hand and pruning shears in the other.
When Wayan comes over to our house, it must be a real insult to him and the entire island of Bali. Maybe that’s why he seldom stays long for coffee. And being that we live in the same neighborhood, it’s no wonder Wayan cuts my grass, trims my trees and waters my plants — the tigers probably don’t match my next-door neighbor’s frangipani hanging over the wall. And that’s how I got embarrassed into gardening.
As any gardener knows, gardening adds an entirely new perspective to life, mainly the perspective of plant parenthood. You realize that you will never be able to leave your house again without feeling that the person you’ve left in charge is going to give your plants the tender loving care they need. After all, you spent a lot of money buying nature to put in your garden: plants, rocks, statues – even dirt.
In addition, many people pay a gardener to come in and spend a number of hours each week pruning, pulling and coaxing their plants to grow. But I’m more of a do-it-yourselfer. I’ve never been a fan of hired help. I find it just stresses me out.
So my first inclination was: “I don’t need a gardener!” I somehow thought that even though I didn’t know a thing about Asian plants, that if I just talked to the plants politely, they’d take sympathy on me and do the right thing. After all, they’re plants! They grow in nature without anyone else’s help – so who am I to change their behavior and tell them what to do?
So I went out and bought some palm trees, leafy vines and some scrubby shrubs. I had them delivered and planted. Now I have what looks exactly like the bottom of a brand new fish tank.
Wayan, who is no doubt delighted to retire the bee outfit and bazooka, has complimented me several times on my new fish-tank garden. And I can sleep a little easier at night with a clean garden conscience. But I have learned a few things about gardening.
First, don’t ever talk to your plants. I have learned that, quite simply, plants don’t listen. When I left my house for a couple of days, I said to my plants, “Look, the water is right next to you; just reach over and take a drink.” I even left a note on the lattice: “Take water once in the morning and once in the evening.” When I came home, the plants were thirsting to death.
I also learned that as much of an improvement my garden is, it is still missing something. It seems empty. It lacks soul.
Compared to the gardens of my Balinese neighbors, my garden lacks consciousness. My garden has too much yang. While Balinese gardens look like they’ve been around for while, mine, though put in five months ago, looks like it was installed, accessories included, yesterday. It almost looks like I could have bought it at Carrefour. Or maybe even the drive-thru window at McDonald’s: “I’ll take the Garden Burger with the lattice on the side.”
My garden lacks the contemplative mood of a Balinese garden. It has no element of the historical, nothing that suggests the passage of time. No moss-covered statues or mature plants. It lacks that understated beauty you find in a Balinese garden: no little statue or vase peeking out from behind the fronds.
Instead, my garden has that Western, “in your face” beauty, like a face on the cover of a glossy women’s magazine: pursed red lips, heavy mascara and bright purple eye shadow. Like tropical fish.
My garden lacks that quiet, calm mood of the Balinese garden — that floating, misty feeling that a Monet painting gives you. There are no lilies floating in water, no morning sunlight filtering through foliage.
My garden, instead, suggests a child’s birthday party, with loud colors, clowns and bursts of applause. You can even see that one obnoxious child waving his hand in the air saying, “Look at me!”
All this prompted me to keep digging in my backyard, in the old jungle, searching for lost cities or anything I could use to make a Balinese garden, a garden with soul.
In time, I found something absolutely extraordinary – moss!
With this as a start, there was really only one thing left to do: hire a gardener.

Amy, who just loves to kick back and watch the garden grow, is at

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