Spring brought longer days and stronger weeds but Joe grew tired before his seedlings were all planted and his roses fed.
‘Not yet,’ he pleaded, his face wet even before he turned it up to the April rain. ‘One more summer… Just one more.’
He couldn’t raise his arms above his head to get undressed that night and slept on the sofa, downstairs in his clothes.
His son visited at the weekend and helped him move his bed downstairs – close to the garden door. He mowed Joe’s lawn but he didn’t know about plants or flowers.
Mrs. White from next door brought food and washed his dishes. She lent Joe Mr. White’s old walking stick and Joe shuffled to the flowerbeds.
‘Oh, the weeds.’
Each day Mrs. White thought of something new: extra pillows, binoculars, a cordless telephone, a radio… And she opened his doors so that he might hear and feel the breeze and watch his flowers grow.
‘Oh the weeds, oh the slugs.’
In late May the district nurse started to visit every day to help Joe wash and dress. She brought him a wheelchair so that he might sit in the sun on warm days and watch the roses grow and the tiny apples form on the trees.
‘Oh the weeds, oh the slugs, oh the aphids.’
Joe’s son couldn’t visit in June and the lawn grew long. Wild grass grew upright in the flowerbeds between dandelions, cornflowers, and poppies.
‘Oh the weeds, oh the slugs, oh the aphids, oh the grass.’
Mrs. White wheeled him to the roses and he peered at the holes on the leaves and sighed. He would have sprayed them by now. But the flowers still came and as Joe bowed forwards to breathe their scent he saw ladybirds, moneyspiders and ants hard at work, eating bugs, building webs, carrying off the aphids.
On days when Joe was strong enough to eat outside, the robins, blackbirds and sparrows sat in the trees and waited for crumbs while the bluetits cleared the caterpillars and greenfly from the fruit trees.
Mrs. White pointed to the swifts flying in and out of the hole in the garage wall that Joe had been meaning to fix.
Joe’s son returned in July, cut the lawn and offered to weed the flower beds. But the long grass and ragwort, were flowering with the salvia and the achillea, and the tops of the flowers waved in the wind as equals. Equally attractive to the bees and the butterflies and the shrews that ran in and out.
The blackbirds turned over the leaves that Joe could no longer clear. They picked up slugs and snails, announced the dawn, danced on his lawn and sang out the day when he was no longer sure what the time was.
On a hot day in August, the doctor was talking but all Joe could hear was the swifts calling to each other as the flying ants left their nest.
In September the swifts left, the first leaves began to skitter, and the rose petals feel. The apples blushed in the golden evening sun and Joe closed his eyes as he listened to busy birds, the swish of the trees and breathed in that last earthy smell of summer leaving the ground as the evenings cooled. He let go of his breath, let go of his garden and left nature to do its work.