Bargain Paradise is a humorous tale of gardening obsession. Gardeners will see a bit of themselves here. Non-gardeners will finally learn what possesses someone to spend every daylight hour, and more, puttering around in the "dirt".
Loretta Evens, a petit woman in her late thirties, catches the gardening ‘bug’ after seeing a friend’s yard. She soon discovers an inexpensive way to landscape the acreage she and her husband Jerry own. Jerry is coerced into assisting her at first, but soon tires of the project. He wonders what has possessed her and whether or not their lives will ever return to normal.
To Jerry’s dismay, Loretta spends far less time in the kitchen and he is forced to dine out or go hungry. When Jerry attempts to enlist the aid of friend and co-worker, Roger Owen, he only succeeds in bringing his friend’s wife, Julie, under Loretta’s influence. Julie joins Loretta on a few of her plant gathering jaunts, but even she is puzzled by Loretta’s obsession. She tries to convince her friend to slow down a bit, but Loretta is driven by a secret plan for the garden which she is not ready to share with anyone.
Not content with scentless flowers found around commercial buildings, Loretta seeks the aid of a local master gardener who recommends seeds, plants and bulbs with flowers known for their fragrance. She decides to grow many of the plants herself to save money and stocks up on seed-starting kits. Jerry arrives home one day to find every available space covered with the black trays, including his desk and kitchen counter tops.
A remark Loretta makes one evening leads Jerry to believe a lack of romance is the cause of her obsession. To his chagrin, even additional attention does not derail Loretta’s mind from her massive winter seed starting project.
The demise of Loretta’s old truck, Bluebell, threatens to curtail her plant gathering completely, but Jerry comes up with an idea that could both reduce the amount of property they own and enable them to buy another vehicle. Will Loretta agree to his suggestion? Just what is this secret plan? Only when disaster befalls both of them, as well as the garden, do they begin to see things from each other’s point of view and appreciate what a beautiful garden can do for their lives.
This is a story of a marriage that has gone stale, and a woman in search of happiness and self expression. Come into the garden with Loretta and Jerry and you may discover what a bit of gardening can do for you.
Free for the Taking
“Loretta hasn’t been right since your fortieth birthday party,” Jerry complained. “Seeing your sister’s back yard gave her the bug. Now she’s determined to turn our forty acres into one big garden.”
“How’s she gonna fill forty acres on your salary?” joked Roger, his friend and co-worker.
“Oh, she has found a way.”
Loretta Evens, a petit thirty-nine year old housewife with raven hair that curled naturally to her shoulders, had been content to care for her home and husband for nineteen years. A glimpse of horticultural beauty, and a chance encounter with a doomed landscape, planted a seed that threatened to undermine that apparent tranquility.
Shortly after Roger’s birthday party where she got a good look at an obsessive gardener’s yard, Loretta came upon a demolition site while on a shopping trip in town. Dozens of perennials and shrubs were being bulldozed along with the structure. What a waste, she thought. She stopped and asked the foreman if she could take some of them.
“I can dig them up myself.”
“Not while we’re working. It’s too dangerous.” He shouted to be heard above the din of the wrecking ball and bulldozers.
She was persistent. “It’s a shame to destroy all those beautiful plants. Can’t I stop by after you quit for the day and dig up what I can find?”
“Lady, by the end of the day, this ground will be level. There won’t be a plant in sight.”
Seeing her crest-fallen face, he gave in. He was never able to turn down a pretty woman. “Look, I can’t let you on a site while we’re working, but I doubt if anyone will mind if you dig before we start. We’re razing an office building at 96th and Elm next Monday. You’re welcome to take as many plants as you like from that site over the weekend.”
They formed an alliance. A quick look at their work schedule and Loretta had enough locations to keep her busy the rest of the summer. Nearly every week there was a new demolition site and a new assortment of perennials and shrubs.
By the middle of summer, miniature snowball bushes, a weeping cherry tree, day lilies, box shrubs and coreopsis “Moonbeam” graced the front of their ranch style home. Perennials filled large oval beds in the back yard and fan shaped beds framing the patio. Jerry went with her in the beginning when he could, but soon tired of the seemingly endless amount of work. Loretta, on the other hand, was tireless in the pursuit of her new avocation. Her goal of transforming their property released a font of energy that took even Loretta by surprise. Cooking and cleaning house could not compare with creating a beautiful garden.
In a large corner lot on the outskirts of town, Loretta worked around a boxy, red brick office building circa 1950. She shoved a spade into the soil, working her way around a cotoneaster while lifting its spreading branches. Perspiration dripped from her brow as she heaved the shrub from its bed and onto a pile of newspapers. Wrapping a few pages around the root ball, she lifted it carefully and hoisted it into the back of an old, rusty pickup truck she called Bluebell.
After hours of digging, the truck’s bed was filled. Hyperion and Stella d’Oro daylilies, as well as tall grasses, miniature box shrubs and cotoneaster constituted her haul for the day.
Yellows and greens…these will look great around the pond, Loretta decided. If only Jerry had been able to come with me today…I could have gotten that redbud.
It had been a long day. Loretta’s sunburned face was streaked with sweat and mud. Her hair was a tangled mess, her clothes torn and muddy. Dirt had found its way under her fingernails in spite of the gloves she wore. Scratches covered her wrists where thorny branches had slipped between sleeve and glove. She felt like one big ache as she crawled into the truck. Settling into the driver’s seat and turning the ignition key, she visualized the plants in the spots she had chosen for them. She saw them, not as they would appear after transplanting but lush and beautiful, as she knew they would look in the future. The vision of her garden filled her with an uplifting feeling of accomplishment. In spite of her labors, she was energized.
I hope Jerry helps me get these plants in the ground tonight, she thought. It’s the least he can do.
Jerry glanced up warily from his beer as the old junker loaded with greenery rattled down the driveway. He worked for a real estate firm and had just settled into a comfortable lawn chair after a busy day showing homes.
Oh! Man! She’s going to want help planting all that stuff.
It was too late to disappear.
“Hi, Honey. It looks like you had quite a day!” He managed to sound pleased in spite of himself.
“I sure did.” Loretta hopped out of the truck, bursting with renewed energy. “I’d like to plant these at the east end of the pond. What do you think?”
“Whatever you say. You’re the gardener.”
“I need a few tall shrubs and trees to plant behind them and that area will be finished. Then we can start on the southern shore.”
“Not all one hundred and fifty feet!” Jerry spilled beer down the front of his shirt.
“Why not? As long as I can get free plants, we might as well fix this place up. It’s begging to be landscaped.”
A groan escaped Jerry’s throat. He was still sore from the planting he did last weekend. “I’m getting too old for this,” he moaned.
“Nonsense! You’re in the prime of life. You’re just out of shape. Gardening is good exercise. It’ll keep you young!”
“It’ll put me six feet under,” Jerry grumbled.
The back of the rusty truck opened with a screech and a clunk as Loretta prepared to unload her loot. “What did you say, dear?”
“I said it’ll put me where I was when I was younger.”
“That’s right. You might even lose enough weight to fit into those old clothes you refuse to throw out.”
An ache in his stomach reminded Jerry that he had not eaten lunch. Since Loretta got the landscaping bug, their meals had been less frequent. Gone were the days when she spent hours in the kitchen.
“What’s for supper?” he asked hopefully.
“Oh, I don’t know. I’ll have to see what’s in the ‘fridge. Give me a minute to clean up.” She headed for the house.
Jerry knew she had forgotten about supper; that she had reluctantly submitted to this interruption in her plans. He shook his head as he gazed at the truck’s loaded bed. He knew they would be planting by floodlight long after the sun went down…again.