Round Robin: A Model Garden

DENVER, Colorado–There were models everywhere: applying makeup in my bathroom, snacking in my kitchen, and posing in the garden. Delivery trucks arrived in front of my house bearing designer clothes with labels so chic that I’ve never heard of them and imported shoes more expensive than my car. Wrinkles were steam­ed out of the clothes in the hallway while boxes of gloves, hats, and jewelry covered the dining-room table.

High fashion had come to my house. The Denver Post, for which I write a weekly gardening column, was shooting its fall fashion section. The logistics of a major shoot are daunting, and finding a private, cozy spot with lots of backdrops makes things easier. Who could say no to the prospect of lithe, lovely people clad in the latest fashions bringing a little class to the place for two days?

I’d fluffed up the garden, preparing for their arrival. I wanted it to look perfect. The borders were at the peak of their midsummer bloom. The only trouble was that the stylist and photographer wanted the setting to look like fall. These were fall fashions that they were shooting several months ahead of time.

Barbara, the stylist, chose what I would consider the least scenic parts of the garden. These are the areas that I escort visitors past quickly. They shot by the irrigation ditch, where the feverfew was a mass of leggy sticks mingling with floppy double soapwort and dying stalks of poison hemlock stood like skeletons. “Perfect!” Barbara proclaimed as I cringed, thinking how my garden was being captured for posterity.

They shot by the potting shed, where I hang bunches of herbs and everlastings to dry. The rusty wheelbarrow sat there upside down like a beached whale, waiting for me to repair the punctured tire. Clay pots of dead plants, casualties from the summer, lined the shelves. The ivy topiary had fried in the hot sun; I’d managed to rot the Spanish lavender. This was not turning into the testament to my gardening skills that I’d hoped for.

I tried to busy myself with my chores, trying to ignore which shortcoming of the garden was being showcased. I talked with the models as they took refuge from the hot sun in the kitchen. It was close to 100°F outside, and they were dressed in leather and wool. I watched them as they applied masking tape to the bottoms of those expensive shoes so as not to scuff the merchandise. I watched the pecan pie and chocolate bars disappear. I don’t suppose these thin creatures eat that way very often, but I figured that they were sweating off ten or twelve pounds for every hour in the blazing heat.

I felt particular pity for the young woman who had the unenviable task of modeling a black body suit (like the one Mrs. Peel always wore on “The Avengers”) topped by a see-through, pink-tinted vinyl poncho. This may not sound like an outfit that most of us would rush out to buy, but it crossed my mind that it would be just the thing to wear while planting bulbs on a damp, chilly October day–not that it would do a thing for my figure: every Oreo I have ever consumed is plainly visible.

I wondered what they would find in my garden as an appropriate backdrop for this get-up. “Oh Lord, not the compost heap!” I thought to myself, as they headed in that direction. Sure enough. There must be something poetic about setting a thing of beauty amid ruin and decay. The model’s pretty face, long legs, and those elegant shoes must have made quite a contrast to the piles of withering stems, spent blossoms, and red orach that has seeded itself along the fence. But I couldn’t watch. I originally had visions of a million readers opening their papers one autumn morning to see the latest fashions set against my stylish, colorful borders, but it turns out that my fashionable garden wasn’t meant for modeling fashions.