IMG_1978In New Orleans, in the Garden District, where the warm air lay on your shoulders like a cat, lived the widow Madam Gardner. Her house was a pale pink color with great white pillars. A black iron fence surrounded the velvet lawns, ancient twisting oaks lined the boulevard, dappling the house in the late afternoon sun.

Madam was a sweet tempered woman, yet not afraid to speak up for justice, always offering a kind word to all she encountered and she had the greenest thumb in the parish.

Her garden was a source of envy for many. Even Madeleine Riboult, Madams oldest and dearest friend went as far as to hint, “One might think Madam’s garden to be enchanted if one didn’t know better.” Little did she know how close to the truth were her suspicions.

In 1860 when Madam moved into her new home with her husband, Samuel, she drew up a garden plan. Dear Samuel dug, hauled, leveled, laid walkways and built stonewalls. Madam planted each section with loving care. Over the years the garden expanded and matured, seeming to take on a life of it’s own.

When Samuel died after twenty years of a blessed marriage, Madam consoled herself with the two most precious gifts he had given her, Marie, their dear, black-eyed daughter, now grown into the grace and beauty of womanhood, and the garden.

The garden started at the back door. On one side against the house, stood hollyhocks, six to seven feet high, in cheery-red, baby pink and creamy white. On the other side of the door, a wide band of lamb’s ears, their leaves shaped exactly like a lambs, soft and silvery, with a tall spike of tiny purple flowers dotting the tops.

Lining the brick walkway, on both sides, were roses, velvety red, with yellow centers, smelling like perfume on a French Queen, leading to a round patio, where Madam had a table and chairs. The trellis that Samuel had twisted and braided from saplings, supported a canopy of light purple wisteria that hung over the patio, the grape-like clusters giving off a scent of honey.

Past the trellis, the walkway circled to the right leading to the patch of lilies, white elaborate blooms, petals curling back to expose long, yellow stamens. Poppies brightened the next plot, coral faces with black centers. They were interspersed with Gloriousa daisies, large feathery heads, with egg yolk, yellow centers. At the corner of the garden, blue forget-me-nots ran wild, surrounding an old hand pump, a with a tin cup still hanging from the handle.

In front of a stonewall, sat a white iron bench, with French lilacs making a hedgerow on either side, leading back to the center of the garden. Walking thru the lilac hedge in the early spring was intoxicating , when the purple clumps of flowers perfumed the air.

Madam’s pride and joy could be seen from the bench, in the center plot of the garden. Snap Dragons, intensely pink and yellow, heads so puffed and exquisite, one could almost imagine them as a group of powdered socialites at their first ball gown party.

Madam loved the ‘snapdragon ladies’, her pet name for them, even though they appeared haughty. She fussed over them like a hen over her chicks. Truly, they were a hearty breed of flower, but would appear wan and wilty at times, until Madam added a touch of bone meal or pruned a lower leaf or two from the stem.

From the snapdragon patch, one could turn in a circle and see an amazing combination of flowers.

Making borders and filling in empty spaces were the old fashioned rose campion, blue lupine, ice-white phlox, pink stained foxglove, a deep, red Tuscany rose, climbing an arched trellis, spikes of dark blue, carmine and white larkspur. Circling the borders were the velvet faced, purple and yellow pansies. And finally, back at Madam’s door, off to the side was a rich, and exotic herb garden.

There were nights when Madam couldn’t sleep, especially after Samuel was gone, when she would walk, barefooted thru the flowers, softly weeping, but always feeling better having breathed the fragrance her garden gladly gave up to her. Returning to her bed and finally sleep, she never heard how the Snapdragon Ladies had scolded the lilies for over perfuming and drowning out the lighter fragrances. She would have been amazed to hear the poppies sniff, that too much was made out of fragrance, when not all flowers were so blessed. They added loud enough for the whole garden to hear, that their beautiful shade of coral more than made up for fragrance. The Snapdragons wholeheartedly agreed since they weren’t strong in that area either.

The roses commented, rubbing it in ever so slightly that they believed Madam perked up some as she stood breathing in the scent that they had wafted out toward her. The daisies soon settled it by turning their attention back to Madam, pointing out how grateful they should be to help her through her time of trial.

They all nodded and turned their faces towards the upstairs window where Madam now lay dreaming of better days to come.

One bright morning in May, King Lydoon, the emerald green and blue miniature humming bird, was extracting nectar from a cherry red hollyhock. His wings buzzed with great speed while his body darted with precision, to the face of each flower, filling his beak with the sweet drink.

Madam’s garden looked forward to King Lydoons visits, for with them came some piece of neighborhood gossip, which the flowers could discuss for hours, in an entertaining way. The Snapdragon Ladies were especially happy to see the hummingbird, since the last few weeks had been quite lovely, but extremely uneventful.

“Pray tell, dear King Lydoon, what news of the parish have you brought?” Sallie Snap, the Grand Dame of the snapdragon patch always put on airs when speaking to royalty. The truth be told King’s mother named him Bill, but when Grandma asked what the baby’s name was, King’s mother yelled, “King, lie down!” addressing their pet grasshopper. Grandma, having a bit of a Scottish brogue, clapped her wings with delight, announcing to every garden and wild place “King Lydoon! What an elegant name!”

King lit on the head of the Tuscany Rose, crimson red and full, smacking his sticky beak. “Have but a minute!” He always said that.

“A carriage, enormous, has just now pulled in front of Madam’s house!” King flew to a larkspur, sipped a moment and returned to the rose.

“Just sit still and tell us about it!” snapped Sallie. She had no patience for interruptions.

An elegant white lily bowed, soothing the tiny bird in the most polite manner and implored him to tell all her knew.

King Lydoon, as busy as he was loved the attention, he continued, “The carriage is creaking and moaning, rocking side to side. Whatever it is holding seems to be stuck.

“Oooh!” squealed Cloe, one of the daintier snaps. “It sounds like Great Aunt Bethune’s come for her yearly visit! She almost took my head off with her great swaying skirts the last time she strolled thru the garden!” Cloe fanned herself to keep from swooning at the memory.

“Pull yourself together!” Commanded Sallie. “Madam was horrified at the damage Great Aunt caused when she strayed off the pathway, for lack of being able to see her feet. I’m sure she will guide her more carefully this time. She is so good at being gracious, even when there is no one important to see her.” Sallie shook her head in pity for all the wasted kindnesses she had seen Madam bestow on others, and not one of them royalty!

Kindness is for it’s own sake!” wisely spoke the morning glory, his blue face turned toward the sun.

“It’s always darkest before it storms!” King Lydoon offered this comfort before he took to wing. “Gotta fly!” He hung in mid-air a moment, then was gone.

“Details! He never gives details!” wailed Sallie.

“Oh, piffle,” sniffed Monique Snap. “He told us everything we need to know. Great Aunt is here and that is that!”

Flora, the rose of a delicious apricot color said matter-of-factly, “I suppose she is here for Marie’s wedding.”

The garden was silent as the meaning of this statement settled upon them.

“That means,” a heavy-headed phlox began, “Great Aunt will be tromping around here for two weeks. We will not survive, no, not any of us. She will pick and tromp till we are all decidedly dead or broken!” Poor phlox let out a wail of despair.

“You tend to over-react dear, and you are scaring the youngsters. Madam will not allow—“ The purple foxglove was cut off as Mimi Snap shrieked “Madam can’t be in all places at all times. We are doomed!”

Sallie spoke comfortingly, “Since Madam leads visitors around the outer circle of the garden, the Ladysnaps, being in the center {myself included} really have nothing to worry about. But our hearts do go out to all our wonderful friends around the outer edge, she said in a  compassionate voice, then turned to brush a bit of dirt off her long, green arm.

“Look, here she comes.” Hoarsely whispered Miss Lily.

As all heads turned toward the back door, when out

stepped Madam, slim, straight-backed and handsome, with her Great Aunt Bethune, large, dark and ominous.

Aunt was leaning on Madam’s arm as she made her way to the table where earlier Madam had placed a large, wing-backed whicker chair. Aunt eased into the chair, let out an enormous sigh, opened her fan and proceeded to beat the air in front of her face.

“My, my, this is nice.” Her voice carried far beyond the garden wall. “Your garden looks lovely. If I weren’t so tired from my long journey, I would be out there picking away. I can see a beautiful patch of yellow something or other right now. Have you ever thought what blue delphiniums could do to perk up that patch of pink thingamabobs you have in the center?”

The Lady Snapdragons froze. The very idea was insane. They strained to hear Madam’s response, but her face was half shaded by her straw hat and her voice was soft and inaudible.

Sallie distinctly heard a pansy {she wasn’t sure which one} say, “Those that are mighty, always fall!” She was going to correct him with the proper quote, then she realized it had been directed at her!” Her cheeks grew pinker. She lifted her head a little higher.   “Well, I never!” Sallie stood proudly, without saying a word, long after Madam and Aunt lit lamps and climbed the stairs to bed, Aunt Bethune’s words still echoing in her ears. Sallie was scared to death.

The next couple of days Madam, Marie and Great Aunt were busy, preparing for the wedding. The event was well known throughout the parish. Everyone was looking forward to seeing the lovely, black-eyed Marie in her Grandmama’s ivory lace dress, sent all the way from Paris. She would soon be standing under the wisteria trellis, placing her tender hand in Gabriel LeJunes, to become his wife.

The garden was abuzz with excitement in spite of their emanate danger of Great Aunt. In the morning Madam, Marie and Great Aunt took coffee and rolls on the patio. They discussed in detail, the days errands and chores to be done in preparation for Saturday. They left the house together, climbed in the waiting carriage and returned late in the afternoon, tired but satisfied with the day’s accomplishments.

This evening Marie made her mother and Great Aunt sit on the patio while she prepared a light supper. The shadows grew longer and the hot sun softened into a rose glow behind a latticework of branches. The three women, their hunger relieved and spirits revived, sipped on Madam’s famous blend of chamomile, peppermint and rose petal tea, breathing in the air, heavy with scent, listening to the evening song birds.

Marie yawned, smiled at her mother, dimpling her beautiful face and gathered the teacups to retire.

Even Great Aunt Bethune was tired, which accounted for the silence. Madam offered to help Aunt to her room but before Aunt rose from her chair, thru the gathering gloom, Sallie Snapdragon found herself staring into the unflinching ice-blue gaze of the Great Aunt as she nodded her head while tapping her finger on her chin.




The fog on the bayou was snaking away through the mossy beards of the trees as the sun rose higher, washing over swamp and land.  Dawn arrived fresh and pink as the parish awoke to songbirds announcing a new day. Madam’s garden was bathing in the dew, stretching their faces towards the early morning sun.

A green arrow flew into the garden landing on the red rose. It was King Lydoon. “Have but a minute!” he said between short sips of nectar. He darted to the snapdragons, hovering in front of Cloe.

“Don’t like eavesdropping, but can’t help it if one has business outside an open window.”

Sallie jerked her head towards the hummingbird.

“What did you hear? Quick, King! Were you visiting the pink rose outside Aunt Bethune’s bedroom window? Did you hear her mention anything about pink thing-a-mabobs? It’s hard to believe she’s related to Madam, with the coarse language she uses.”

King darted to Sallie in way of comfort, when he told her, “I bring a warning. Going to perk up your section of the garden with blue delphiniums. Thinks you’re a little dull.”

“Ooooh!” Sallie cried. “Not in a million years will I share our beautiful pink and yellow plot with anything that’s blue!”

King had flown to the lilies. “Madam and Marie are going out alone today. Great Aunt plans a surprise. But don’t worry. Those that have, always get more! Gotta fly!” Then poof, like magic, he was gone.

The flowers were so impressed with his wisdom and yet a little ashamed, for they never really knew what he was talking about and never dared to ask.

The Snapdragon Ladies were in a tizzy. They had turned pale at the news, shaking and quivering with fright.

Sallie gathered herself together in the face of hysteria, sticking her chin out in defiance. However, that defiant chin dropped in horror when all of a sudden, out came Aunt with a tray of bobbing blue things on tall spikey stems, heading straight for the center plot!

The delphiniums had been delivered to the house after Madam and Marie had left for the final dress fitting. Great Aunt was sure this addition to the garden would be a welcomed improvement for the wedding, which was now, taking place in two days. She slowly made her way through the garden, veering off the path once, into the pansy border. If only she could have heard them scream.

Sallie stopped shaking long enough to whisper to Monique snap, “I do think they over reacted a bit. I see only one broken arm and that will mend in no time.”

It took enormous effort for Great Aunt to kneel next to the snaps, her yards of skirts falling on the heads of at least ten pink ladies.

For an hour, dirt was flying, sweat was dripping, while plants were being squeezed into the circle of snapdragons. The job done, Great Aunt rose with the help of her walking stick, which had carelessly laid across Monique. While nothing was broken, she did suffer bruises.

With a final insult, Aunt kicked a clod of dirt off the pathway, landing on Sallie, then walked back to the house, completely satisfied with her morning’s work.

“Ouch!” You’re stepping on my roots! Move over you big oaf! I have no elbow room! I can’t breathe! I’m being suffocated!” The Snapdragon Ladies had found their tongues. They pushed and nudged at the unwanted flowers but to no avail. The new plants were firmly planted and seemingly unaffected by the quarrelsome ladies they now towered over.

Sallie shook the dirt off her pink puffed head and called her girls to attention. “Madam will never allow this invasion. When she comes home we will be saved.!”

But Madam came home too late that evening to visit her garden. Aunt forgot about her surprise in the excitement of seeing Marie’s wedding dress, so the snapdragon ladies prepared to face the night alone, while being squeezed out of their very home.

Long into the night there was scuffling, rustling, shoving and all around unhappy sounds coming from the snapdragon patch. The ladies entirely exhausted with no encouraging results, soon quieted as they realized they might be stuck in this hideous situation.

“That horrible blue fades my perfect blush to a washed out hue.” Whined Chloe.

“I can’t see over that giant blue thing’s head. I will never see the daisies, again.” Sniffed Collette.

“Hush, girls.” Sallie soothed, in a loud whisper. “I’ve been thinking. While our enemy sleeps, {just listen to that awful snoring!} we will attack! We will drink up all the moisture in the ground, leaving not a drop for our new friends. They will shrivel before the sun sets again, saving Madam from having to lift a finger. So, spread out, girls. Kick out those roots! Drink, drink and when you’re full, drink some more! I declare war on these invaders. They will never know what happened!” The Snapdragon Ladies did the only thing left for them to do. They greedily began to soak up and store moisture.

Their heads and arms became heavy with it, but they continued through the night, and when the sun peaked over the garden wall, to reveal a patch of pink bloated snapdragons, their heads weighted to the ground and blue parched delphiniums, leaves hanging limp at their sides.



The smell of coffee wafted across the garden. Freshly baked buns were being pulled from the oven and the morning songbirds were rejoicing with all their might. Soon the back door opened and out stepped Madam, with a tray of buns, next came Marie with the coffee and white porcelain cups, and finally Great Aunt, holding the door with her walking stick.

They happily poured the coffee and passed the buns until Madam looked out across her garden. Immediately, she knew something was wrong. She quickly tied on her sunbonnet and hustled down the brick pathway. It was then that Great Aunt remembered her surprise. She smiled and reached for another bun, as she told Marie what she had done. She was confidant Madam would return full of gratitude and a little humbled for insisting on tending to her garden by herself.

But as Madam bent to cup Sallies head in her hand and puzzle over the dried out delphiniums, tears streamed down her elegant cheeks. She was remembering the day of her own wedding when her mother gave her a small muslin bag tied tightly with a blue ribbon. She undid the gag and poured tiny, black seeds into her eager, young hand. Her mother had kissed her cheek and smiled. “Snapdragons, mon cherie. Every new bride must have some for good luck.” Madam had carried the little bag on a chain around her neck all the way from Paris, France to her new home in New Orleans. She never saw her mother again, but those pink and yellow snaps embodied her mother’s spirit and eased her homesickness on many a lonely night.

Now, her beloved snaps, the direct descendants from her original seeds lie bloated and rotting at the edges for reasons she couldn’t comprehend. She rose and with bent shoulders slowly walked back down the path.

Great Aunt was putting her fourth bun into her mouth when Madam approached.

“Suprumph!” she shouted, spraying crumbs across the table.

“Were the delphiniums your surprise, Aunt?” Madam asked, thinking they had been. “How kind of you!” Madam truly cared for her aunt. “But something went wrong. The patch has been devastated. I must replace it before the wedding tomorrow.”

“Mon Chere, I am sorry!” Aunt stopped chewing.

“It was not your intent dear. There is no blame.” Madam gently placed her hand on Aunt’s shoulder.

“Stay and finish breakfast. I will go order a half a dozen Hostas. The large waxy leaves will cover the spot nicely.” There was a catch in Madam’s throat as she turned and hurried inside.

Aunt reached for the last bun, sorry about the garden and sorry that was the last bun.




Sallie heard a dry crackling sound just above her head. It kept repeating itself until she realized someone was trying to speak. She adjusted her ear.

“You ambushed us while we slept.” Whispered the voice.

“Well, you ambushed us while we were awake.” Sallie said thickly.

“When someone has you around the neck and shoves you into the ground, that’s where you are

planted.” The parched delphinium made sense.

“I felt sorry to be planted here when I thought this garden was run by a mad gardener. But I could grow to love the Madam. I wish I might be tended by her!”

Sallie painfully turned her water soaked head to look up at this hated enemy. “We do love her. She is kind and generous. We would do anything for her. Even your kind would flourish under her hand.”

“Looks like we won’t get the chance to know that. We are so parched and dry we won’t make it thru the day.”

“Aren’t you being a little pessimistic?” Sallie reproached.

The delphinium shook with anger. “You nearly killed us!”

Sallie tried to hide her growing remorse. “Nearly is a long way from dead.”

Sallie wondered what it was that had upset her patch so much in the first place. Her mind chatter started to point a finger in her direction, but she stopped it before it could get one word in. She looked around, and thought, “Yes, we may be crowded a little, but I’m beginning to notice our powered pink complexions really pop with a blue background.” She was beginning to think delphiniums were not as bad as she had once thought. They were even a little on the attractive side, though no one would ever hear Sallie admit to that. An idea came to her. Maybe it wasn’t too late to share a little water with the delphiniums. After all, tomorrow was the wedding and their patch should be a disgrace if something wasn’t done with these limp flowers.

Her ladies didn’t look very well either, which had Sallie a little worried.

“Girls. I have something to say.” It was difficult for Sallie to speak, but she continued.

“Maybe we were too hasty, no, too selfish, no, too narrow minded, no, I guess hasty is the word. Let’s look at this again and consider the benefits. If we release some moisture, certainly the delphiniums would look better, but we would also resume our natural loveliness, sacrificed for a plan that has somehow gone wrong. Besides, I’ve decided Madam couldn’t do without us. So, come on girls, kick out your roots. Let go with some of that water! Spread it around. There’s enough for everybody!” Sallie’s encouraging words roused the snaps from their stupor and slowly they followed her directions.

“That’s it Bebe, you look better already. Chloe, give it up girl, I know you can do it!”

Sallie pleaded, rallied and consoled her snaps as they answered her call. Before long, the lilies offered kind words of hope. The roses spoke words of wisdom and the pansies sent up a chant that many other flowers of the garden joined.

“Share to live, live to share!” They continued on through the day, happy in their work.

As the yellow moon rose and the lamps were lit Madam, Marie and Great Aunt Bethune were checking the last of the details for the wedding, dawning on the following day. Marie was excited and yet nervous. Great Aunt was moving the button on her skirt as far to the edge as it would go, in anticipation of the wedding supper being served in the yard around the garden.

Madam, poor soul, was melancholy over giving away her daughter to life and womanhood and heartsick over her rotting snapdragon ladies. Every time she thought of the tray of large, bluish green leafed plants, leaves that resembled elephant ears, waiting outside the back door, to replace her beloved snapdragon patch, her heart was squeezed with sorrow. She turned down her lamp and sat at her bedroom window, watching the silvery moon, as round and pure as a baby’s face, playing shadows in her garden. When she knelt down to say her evening prayer, looking heavenward she begged her mother’s forgiveness for the task she must do, at the dawning of the day.




Marie’s wedding day shone bright and pink on the horizon. The morning birds were flitting from church steeple to high stonewalls to low garden gates, rejoicing in a new day. The church bells rang loud and sweet, joining in the announcement of the great celebration to take place on this day.

The parish awoke with the ringing of the bells and soon smells of baked baguettes and rich bitter coffee was wafting through the open windows, for the day had begun.

Madam, up and dressed before the rest of the house, quietly tiptoed down the stairs and out the back door, tying on hr sunbonnet. She picked up her trowel along with the tray of hostas. Picking her way slowly and sorrowfully to the beloved patch of snaps.

As she approached the Ladies, her eye caught a green arrow sling past her and light on the head of a tall, blue delphinium, right in the center of the Snapdragon Ladies.

For a moment, Madam thought the early morning sun was playing a cruel trick on her disbelieving eyes, for there, just like always, were her Snapdragon Ladies, pink heads, puffed and beautiful, nodding and bobbing, as if in great anticipation of the day. The delphiniums, though a bit crowded, were straight and elegant, heavenly blue with outstanding black centers.

Madam watched the small hummingbird dart amongst the snaps, then knelt to stroke each lovely flower, dropping tears as soft as rain on their dear


She whispered a prayer of thanksgiving then rose to prepare for the day.

“What a fine wedding this will be!” She declared.




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