Maggie Flaherty is feisty, intelligent and beautiful. She’s a porcelain-skinned, red-headed Irish girl from the Charlestown area of Boston. At Harvard she wins the heart of Adams Welles, of the Brahmin Welles family. They marry and move into the gracious family home on Beacon Hill. Too late Maggie discovers that she has married into a family of perfectly proper drunks who are none too bright after generations of marrying cousins. Distinguished lineage is about all they have left. And, Maggie unfortunately produces two children who follow lock step in that tradition. The only clue to the drinking is that the Welles’ fine, aristocratic noses gradually succumb to burst veins, turning red and lumpy.
“One could almost say that among Welles men their noses often had more personality than any other part of them.”
This is a love story that takes place in an elegant garden. It opens when Maggie is a sixty-one year old widow on the slow road to recovery from a stroke. The old saying, “it’s never too late for love” applies.
Maggie’s beloved garden is in shambles from neglect when Tristan Mallory, a handsome and virile landscape architect, is hired by her wealthy next door neighbors to create their new garden. He glimpses Maggie through a crack in her garden wall. He is reminded of an experience he had at age thirteen.
“He was in a bog, a bog full of lady’s slippers at the edge of a New England hardwood forest. He had been tramping through deep mud when suddenly he saw near a stand of ferns a bizarre and lovely wildflower. It was not in his guide book. And when he bent down to examine it more closely he was startled and excited to see its parts. Even though he was still a virgin and he had little knowledge of female anatomy, something stirred within him.”
Maggie, her eyes and her hair, stirred that same long ago feeling in Tristan. When they finally come face to face, she is lying on the ground entranced by the full grown flowering trees sailing through the air on Tristan’s cranes. He decides to join her because it is the best way to view the tree parade on the other side of the wall.
Tristan secretly lays down a stone walk to make it easier for Maggie to navigate her garden. Then without letting anyone know, they begin “night gardening.” In a matter of weeks they transform the decaying garden into a lush retreat. The work invigorates Maggie more than all her hired therapists.
“She felt the soft night wind curling around their bodies. They were whales, they were islands, they were underwater meadows of endless colors within an endless sea.”
Maggie becomes stronger, more in balance, and hopelessly in love. Her affection is returned a hundredfold by Tristan. Her moss covered Japanese step garden becomes their love nest.
“A white dogwood spread its blossoming branches like a small constellation over the path, which narrowed at this point. Stepping-stones appeared with wooly thyme flowing between them like calligraphy. To the left was a stone lantern. Tristan knew now that he was carrying Maggie along a classic roji, or dewy path, and it was the way into a garden, often a tea garden, that spiritually prepared the visitor. Mounds of moss began to rise on either side. The occasional trillium quivered in the evening, its white petals like a swirl of butterflies suspended in flight.”
In the midst of Maggie and Tristan’s love affair in the Japanese contemplative garden, her son, Adams Welles V is plotting to take everything away.
How Night Gardening turns out will not be revealed here.
Each chapter begins with a lovely thought about gardening, many about Japanese traditional gardening.
“By evening plants are refreshed. They are busy throughout the night as this is the time they make new growth. Nutrients which were manufactured in sunlight by day are mobilized in the dark and used to make new cells.” Stephen Dalton, The Secret Life of a Garden
It seems that the night not only nurtures the garden, it gives new life to the night gardeners. In the moonlight they are sustained in strength and love and their precious dreams. No one can take this away.