I have a giant radish in my front yard.
By ‘giant’ I mean ‘three and a half meters tall’ so you can probably infer that it’s not a real radish since they’re rarely that big. Heck, it doesn’t even look like a radish (mine is various shades of green (er, ‘grove‘)) but I’ve called it that for over twenty years.
Technically it looks more like a spade or an onion or the world’s smallest Russian Orthodox church. I don’t find, though, that those descriptions are nearly as, um, ‘pithy‘ (or, in OED-speak, ‘terse and vigorously expressive’) as ‘radish.’ I’m willing to forego a little accuracy for terseness and vigorous expression. For a little poetry. For a little fun. So to me it’s a radish. A three-meter radish. Of genus Taxus.
In other words, it’s a yew tree. A yew bush. Shrub. Whatever.
(I’m not really sure what kind of yew it is — I didn’t bring it home from the nursery, I didn’t dig the hole, I didn’t plant it, I don’t have and have never seen the tag that came with it and I’m neither a botanist nor a particularly good gardener. I’ve generally assumed that it’s a Japanese yew (Taxus cuspidata) but only because I’ve seen pictures of those that look kinda like mine/ours. I’m moderately sure it’s not a Taxus x media because I have several of those in the back yard and they’re nothing like radishes. It doesn’t really matter and bears no particular relevance to the story.)
Yews are grown for a lot of reasons. They make good longbows if you anticipate a problem with the neighbours and have several years to prepare. You can use them to make chemotherapy drugs. And if you don’t find those reasons particularly compelling, they’re still good-looking plants (the Royal Horticultural Society calls them ‘handsome’ and ‘timelessly fashionable’) that tolerate a wide range of soil and climate conditions and live for a long time. (Plus they’re poisonous, but that’s probably not considered a feature.) In addition to being attractive, they can be cut, shaped and trained into useful or entertaining shapes.
Some people are extraordinarily enthusiastic about topiary — one example is (or, rather, was — he died almost forty years ago) Harvey Ladew of Maryland. (If you’re in the neighbourhood and you like that sort of thing, his place is definitely worth a visit.) On a somewhat less fanatical note, Ms. Rose’s father (being an English gentleman) is probably genetically programmed for topiary. (His grandfather carved a bush into the shape of a rooster which I think tends to support my theory. Well, a little bit.) Anyway, when Ms. Rose moved into the house thirty-odd years ago, there was this bush-shaped bush. From her description I infer (there’s that word again) that it was kind of a blob. (We have no idea how old it might be. Probably not as old as the one in Wales.) Her father, on seeing the blob, sprung into action and created Radish V1.0. When I arrived on the scene a few years later, radish maintenance was passed to me.
Which means that, once a year, I collect tools from the basement and the garage (and from Ms. Rose’s father’s garage) along with other essential gear (stepladders, rakes, containers of caffeinated beverage and of course hockey sticks), pause briefly to reflect on forty year old songs and then attack the radish. (That is not a euphemism.) I’m pretty sure than Radish V20 bears little resemblance to Radish V1.0 but my goals are mostly the same as for hockey: I haven’t hurt myself (yet?) and I haven’t barfed. (Trying to make it look half-decent comes a fairly distant third.)
The process usually takes between an afternoon and a week, depending on my motivation and the weather. During this time the lawn is littered with little bits of yew, the front hall of the house is crowded with whatever implements of destruction I don’t happen to be using at the moment and my hair and pockets are full of needles.
There’s one thing, though, that happens every year. I might be on a ladder, stripped to the waist, covered in sweat and a uniform layer of green… bits. I might be standing in the middle of the street, staring at the bush and trying to convince myself that I didn’t just take far too much off of one side. I might be running around waving a rake like a madman. It doesn’t seem to matter what I’m doing, but someone will always walk by the house — someone that I’ve never spoken to before — and stop and say something about the bush. (One year it was an older gentleman (I don’t know for sure of course, but he seemed grandfatherly to me) that I’d never even seen before; a man with an extremely thick, probably Italian, accent. His comment? “Atsa nice bush.”) It never fails.
Until this year.
This year it still happened, it’s just that for the first time EVER it was someone that I’d actually spoken to before. Someone whose name I actually knew. Mrs. Digestible (that’s how Swype spells her name) walked up to where I was standing, looked at the bush and her first word was…
(I had a brief feeling of being in a restaurant but it passed.)
I figure this is a sign. I’m just not sure what it’s a sign of.