Checkbook Gardener by
(361 Stories)

Prompted By The Garden

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I have a notorious black thumb. I killed a philodendron in my college dorm room and those things are indestructible. I killed all my house plants, so replaced them with good-looking silk ones. No fuss, no muss. But that is indoors. The great outdoors is less and more capricious. Back home in Newton, MA, my husband no longer cares how things look since we are gone all summer long.

But on Martha’s Vineyard we live right in the historic village of Edgartown on a busy little street with a sign denoting a historic house above our door. We care a great deal about how things look. So we have a marvelous gardener, Teresa Yuan, who not only knows plants and flowers, she is an artist who shows her paintings at the Old Sculpin Gallery. One has to be juried in to show there. What does she normally paint? Flowers, of course.

Just as I have an old home, some of my garden is also old. Documents left by two owners-ago say that a Rose of Sharon at the end of the back yard is about 170 years old. It sent off two saplings that are now almost as big as the original tree. The Featured photo is a view along one side of the house, just past the double driveway and arbor, festooned with a trumpet vine that attracts humming birds. It is right outside my three-season room, a bright spot to sit and read and wait for those little miracles of nature.

Fifteen years ago, we extended the house and added a pool. We do not have much land, but we created a quiet oasis away from the hustle and bustle of the busy street outside.I

I love to take a dip, then sit there and listen to the birds chirp, wait for the cardinal family to flit in and out of the bushes, doing their mating dance. I think cardinals are special birds and am so pleased that they choose to live with me. Their call makes me think they are crying out for my brother; “Ricky, rick, rick”. We had a mating pair in the lilac bushes by my house in Detroit when I was young and I used to talk to them. So I am very happy that I have a pair in my backyard again.

Edgartown is known for it’s pretty homes and gardens. We have put flower boxes on every visible window, and planter boxes in front of the house and several in the back yard, as well as on a second story deck. These need constant dead-heading and watering, particularly if the days are hot and sunny with not much rain. 

My reward is seeing tourists stop to photograph my house, or the view above my gate to the carriage house with the lovely flower boxes, now overflowing with impatiens. We also plant a border of impatiens around the entire garden, have a bed of petunias and hydrangeas by the side of the house, day lilies and irises, some other types of lilies, and other perennials that flower at various times throughout the season, when the rabbits don’t eat them. The flower boxes in front always have pink geraniums plus other filler flowers and greens. Teresa does a marvelous job, year after year.

We have twice been on garden tours. Once, as a fundraiser for the fourth grade class trip of the local elementary school. This year, our neighbor runs a large garden conservancy group and brought her group to see our garden. Small, though we are, we are always happy to oblige. I am happy to show off my little refuge.


Profile photo of Betsy Pfau Betsy Pfau
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.

Tags: black thumb, trumpet vine, old roses, tranquil
Characterizations: right on!, well written


  1. John Shutkin says:

    First, Betsy, I need to tell you that I totally identify with your “black thumb” moniker. My college roommates said that of me and presented me with a plastic philodendron after I kept killing the ones on my window sill. And they then worried if I would melt it.

    That said, I loved your story, starting with the terrific, self-effacing title. It makes clear how one can truly enjoy the magic that a beautiful garden spot can offer, even if you are unable to create it yourself. And it is delightful that the cardinals by your pool evoke sweet memories of your childhood. All in all, and even without the photos that confirm it, you have painted a beautiful picture.

    Finally, I can’t help but note that it sounds as if there is another Teresa destined for sainthood.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      John–I love that we are both philodendron killers! Thank you for acknowledging that I can appreciate my garden without creating it. This past weekend we had a new visitor from London (where they are known for their glorious gardens), who also sat by the pool and commented on the cardinal at play, swooping in and out, and how utterly delightful all the birds and other sounds were, though we live on a major street. We have our little oasis of calm and beauty, hidden away where we can just relax and enjoy nature.

      And yes, we love our Teresa. We first knew her when she worked for a larger company, but she went out on her own and we stayed with her. She hasn’t been well these past few seasons, but has brought in others to help her and her quality hasn’t slipped. She leaves cut flowers at our door from our garden and is always pleasant and thoughtful. I enjoy going to her painting shows as well. We pray she stays healthy.

  2. Suzy says:

    Lovely story, Betsy, and great pictures to illustrate it. Your Martha’s Vineyard home sounds like paradise! And I applaud the notion of paying someone else to make it beautiful. That is the only type of gardening that appeals to me, which is why I probably won’t write a story this week.

  3. John Zussman says:

    Such a lovely, warm story—it made me smile just to read it. I love that, despite your black thumb, you’ve found a way to create your own bower, beautiful enough for tourists to photograph.

  4. Laurie Levy says:

    From one black thumb to another, so lucky you found a gardener to create such beauty.

  5. I love the reminder that the visitors to the garden, be they insect, bird or tourist are often as much to focus on as is the garden itself. Sounds lovely, Betsy!

  6. Betsy, your pride in your lovely house and beautiful garden is well-deserved!
    Enjoy every minute there!

  7. Ah, Betsy…your words and photos make it easy to close my eyes and picture being there in your haven. Thanks for the imaginary respite from the smoke and ashes, just what I needed!

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