This past week, Max trimmed the boxwood hedge out front. This is probably the biggest job he has to do in the yard all summer. It takes a day, and then we, truckless, have to borrow a vehicle to haul off all the little boxwood plants in the making that instead end up in the City’s compost pile. The reason this chore takes so long is because instead of using electric hedge trimmers, Max completes the task with little hand clippers. He promised Betty Goodwin that he would. 

When we moved into the house in 1990, neither of us knew the first thing about gardens or yards or trees. We just knew that we liked having a backyard with big trees, lush green grass, lovely flower beds, and shrubs and bushes that bloomed each year (we found out that they are called “perennials”).

Mrs. Thompson had apparently liked those things, too, because the yard was already dotted with plants I recognized from my childhood days at Grandma and Grandpa’s house – quince, which Grandma called “birding bushes;” iris and hyacinth, where the Easter bunny usually left its eggs; white and lavender lilac, which smelled heavenly; forsythia, with its bright yellow proclamation of spring; and peonies (which some call “pee-OH-nees” and some call “PEE-uh-nees”); among others. But Max and I had no idea what to do with them. 

Also, I thought the junipers out front were past their prime, and I wanted to take them out, which Max resisted vehemently, because he thought the front of the house would then look naked.  We also squabbled about whether the cedar tree in the front yard added anything to the landscape, Max saying no, and my saying that I hate to take out any tree. We realized we had to find someone who could tell us what to do.

I can’t remember how, but Max discovered the name of the person who was responsible for re-designing the landscape on the Plaza in Kansas City after the flood – and that was Betty Goodwin.

We called her – remember dialing 411 and getting someone’s telephone number? – and she agreed to come to Sedalia to coach us.

Emily was about 2 ½ when Betty drove to Sedalia to take on who she didn’t know would be her most challenging pupils. I watched her get out of her BMW and noted that she was wearing a classic navy blue linen sheath and Ferragamo flats, and was carrying a Lily Pulitzer straw handbag (at least I thought it was Lily Pulitzer). This woman worked in the dirt?

She came in and began her tutelage. She had a degree in something like chemical engineering, but she loved playing with plants, and so she had foregone working in her field to work in, well, fields. 

We walked the yard, telling her that we wanted to keep the landscape true to the time the house was built, which she heartily approved. And she said, “The first thing is that those junipers have to go.” With stars in his eyes, Max said, enthusiastically, “Sure!” I was fit to be tied. I had been trying for a year to get him to get rid of those junipers, and all Betty Goodwin had to do was get out of her car, put on her garden shoes, and declare that they had to go, and he was on board.

Next week: We get the boxwood hedge, and Max makes the promise.

Author’s note: You may have noticed that my column was published on Tuesday rather than last Saturday. What happened: Technology failed me. I was at a conference with 400 of my best friends, all of whom were using the hotel’s Wi-Fi at the same time. I sent my piece to my editor, Nicole Cooke, but somehow, it did not get to her. By the time I found out it hadn’t reached her, it was too late to try to send it again. Today’s column is coming from 1020 S. Barrett, where, so far, the internet is working just fine.


Contributing Columnist

Deborah Mitchell is a local attorney.

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