I am the Johnnie Appleseed of Irvine!
If you know me well or – for some odd reason – read my blog extremely carefully, you know that I have a love-hate relationship with Home Owners’ Associations (hereby referred to as the HOA). While I like having lots of trees, well-kept lawns, and no cars up on blocks in the front yards, I’m not crazy about the way they stifle creative expression. HOAs typically favor beige paint and sturdy, unassuming plants, the kind my clever neighbor calls Default Shrubs. You know the kind: they bloom pink for about two weeks of the year, at which time they attract an unholy amount of bees, and the rest of the time they just fade into the background.
There’s a little rebel left in this suburban mother’s soul. So every once in a while I defy our HOA rules, hopefully in small, victimless crimes. My kids and I continue to color the walkway with sidewalk chalk, for example, despite the fact that we have actually received a written note insisting we clean it up as soon as we’re finished creating. My repertoire includes portraits of the girls and their friends, chalk outlines of the kids (looks like a very colorful CSI team was working the block when I’m done), and the main characters from Monsters, Inc. Many of the other neighborhood kids join us in this, so I don't believe we're actually bothering anyone, and so often forget to clean up. Hubby, however, whose inner rebel is much less developed than mine, and who will also have to pay the fine if we incur one, usually comes home and hoses it off.
But my favorite underground activity is what I like to call Renegade Gardening. In between my next door neighbor’s back patio and my own is a small patch of earth, cursorily planted with – what else – the default shrubs. I pass this area half a dozen times a day when I enter my house, and used to get a not-so-lovely view of the gas meter and our circuit breakers. It really drove me crazy. So, whenever I planted seeds in my garden, I’d “accidentally” throw a couple over the fence, hoping they’d take root. Unfortunately, they never did.
But this spring, when I was removing a root-bound and leggy geranium from a pot, I decided to sneak into the HOA owned plot, and plant it. I’m happy to say, it’s growing beautifully. Meanwhile, my Black Beauty Geranium, the pride of my tiny garden, has worked it’s way under the fence and quadrupled in size. The gas meter is completely obscured! (My apologies go out to The Gas Company employees who have to read my meter. I have no bone to pick with you. But the cause of Beauty must be forwarded at all costs.)
Even better, now joining the geraniums are the leafy tendrils of a Black Eyed Susan, an unruly vine I removed from my yard two years ago, but whose seeds must have scattered and lay dormant all this time. They have also taken root in the boring ivy beds that line our carports, and I water them with love. I rejoice in these small victories. They help reconcile me to all the beige stucco.
Johnnie Appleseed, as the legend goes, was a friendly eccentric who walked the American wilderness scattering seeds, wearing a saucepan on his head. My extensive Internet research of this afternoon revealed that he was actually a nursery owner and a missionary named John Chapman, who planted orchards throughout Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Ohio two hundred years ago, some of which are still growing. He believed in trying to mimic the goodness of God, and envisioned a country where no one would go hungry because there were always enough apples to eat. My mission may not be quite so altruistic, and my geraniums, not to mention my condo, will be long gone in a century. But I do believe I’m practicing senseless acts of beauty as the bumper sticker used to say. Plus, I’m satisfying my inner rebel at the same time. Not a bad use of my energies when all is said and done.