Mrs. Porcupine's Garden

Part I

Water, Water?

Mrs. Petunia Porcupine has lived in Ballymore for ten years. She arrived with her husband, Peter, when they heard that Ballymore needed a bakery. Both she and Peter were excellent bakers, and the residents happily welcomed them. Unfortunately, Peter passed away five years ago, which left Petunia alone. She was not alone for long, though, as the residents provided much support and friendship. With the help of the squirrels and others, she kept the bakery open, which was good for everyone.

Mrs. Porcupine’s garden and orchard were the largest in Ballymore. She supplied the all the residents’ needs in these regards, also.

Her cottage sat on the northwest corner of the pond. As with most of the homes, the beavers built it with stones from the creek just to the southeast of Ballymore. How the stones were moved to the building site is a tale for later.

The cottage had a parlour, bedroom, guest room, and large kitchen. The parlor was used frequently as she had many visitors. She needed a large kitchen in which to bake all of the pies, breads, and cookies. As mentioned above, her bakery products were well loved. She rarely had anything left at the end of the day. Her specialty was lemon meringue pie. Unfortunately, she couldn’t offer it as often as she would have liked because lemons were not always available. She had many fruit trees in her orchard but not a lemon among them. Lemons must be located by the swans and flown into Ballymore. It was not clear how or where the swans obtained them. Actually, it was not clear how or where the swans obtained anything for the residents.

Petunia was a very neat housekeeper and had the cleanest cottage in Ballymore. Every morning after breakfast she swept and washed the floor, cleaned the kitchen, and polished her shoes, which she rarely wore. All of that took her only about an hour.

This morning, when Petunia got dressed she put on her new pink overalls that Reginald made. She walked into her kitchen, and was shocked to see two parallel trails of ants winding from her cupboard to under the back door. One trail was incoming and one outgoing. The outgoing ants were transferring her sesame seeds to who knows where. Her resulting scream was probably heard on the other side of the pond. In any event, she quickly shooed the ants out the door with her broom. This was only a temporary solution as everyone knows that ants don’t give up easily.

Mrs. Porcupine was a kind soul and knew that the ants needed food like everyone else, so she had to think of a better answer than the broom. A compromise was needed. She decided to place a small amount of sesame seeds on the back porch that evening. The seeds would be covered by an overturned dish so that only the ants could reach them.

Having dealt with that unexpected matter, she could finally have breakfast and do her cleaning. Afterwards, she decided to take a short rest prior to beginning the daily tending of the garden. She also needed to rest because she had not yet settled down from the ant invasion.

It was a beautiful late May morning. Petunia strolled to a small field behind her cottage. Tufts of grass blanketed the uneven turf. Dandelions poked their bright yellow heads everywhere above the slender green blades. The delicate, white petals of daisies with small, yellow centres were generously scattered throughout. Ever so slightly, the flowers stirred in the gentle breeze. Sunlight, out of a cloudless, blue sky, glistened off dew drops and illuminated the scene into a living painting.

This serenity was exactly what she needed, and Petunia sat on her favorite rock for several minutes until her peace was interrupted by someone approaching.

She turned to see Finnilly (Finn) Frog coming through the field. He was dressed in his usual pullover jeans. Finn lived on the other side of the pond. He was a “Tom Sawyer” kind of frog, if you know what I mean. He loved adventures and thought there might be one brewing when he heard what sounded like a scream come from across the pond. He came to investigate or just be nosy, whichever you prefer.

“Hi, Mrs. Porcupine,” Finn said. “A little while ago, I thought I heard a scream from over this way. I came over to see if everything was all right. Did you hear anything?”

“Hello, Finn,” said Petunia. “No. I mean yes.”

She corrected herself as she remembered her initial reaction to the ants. Then, she told Finn about the ant encounter and her planned peace offering. That interested Finn greatly, and it sounded like a good adventure with which to get involved. Petunia knew Finn well and knew exactly what he was thinking. His involvement would not be good for a situation that required some delicacy.

Changing the subject, Petunia asked, “Would you help me bring some water from the pond to the garden, please?”

That was not the kind of adventure for which Finn had been looking but, being a helpful frog, he willingly obliged.

The trip from the pond to the garden was about a hundred and fifty feet and slightly uphill. Petunia always used two small pails and a cart to transport the water. The pails were emptied into a trough next to the kitchen. From there the water would be distributed as needed. The amount of water required varied depending upon how much it had rained and how much baking had to be done. Today, she needed ten trips worth of water.

Usually, Sofie or Seely Squirrel helped her cart water, but neither were there yet. The two squirrels have been assisting Petunia since Peter passed. They mostly handled distribution of the bake goods but also worked in the kitchen and garden.

As Finn helped haul the water, he was trying to figure out an easier way to bring water to the garden. A scheme popped into his head.

“Mrs. Porcupine, I have an idea about the water,” Finn said with great enthusiasm.

“What is that?” she asked. She was glad he was thinking about water and not ants.

“We could dig a ditch from the pond to the garden, and the water would flow automatically to where you want it. It would save a lot of carting.”

She thought about the idea for a while. Finally, she said, “I certainly like the idea of having the water come to the garden, but I don’t like the idea of having a trench in my yard. Someone might fall in it.”

Finn said, “Hmmm. Okay. There must be a better way.”

“I’ve got it," he said excitedly. “We can dig UNDER the pond.”

“What! Whatever do you mean?” she blurted.

“First, we dig a hole near the garden. Near the bottom of the hole, we can dig another hole that will run to the pond. Water would flow through the hole to the garden. Then, you could scoop the water out and use it as needed. Hurrah!”

Finn was almost jumping out of his jeans with excitement.

“Your idea certainly sounds interesting but complicated. Who would dig these holes?” she asked.

Finn answered instantly, “THE MOLES.”

“Let me think about it a little longer,” said Petunia. “It will work! It will work!” said the frog, repeating himself. Now, he was excited! This was the kind of adventure he liked. “I’m going to talk to the moles right now.”

Off he hopped as fast as he could.

Petunia thought of getting Bartholomew’s opinion on the project, but she knew he was very busy with building the new boat. She smiled and wondered what would become of all this.

It was only about a five minute hop south from Mrs. Porcupine’s cottage to the moles’ cottage.

The moles’ cottage had only one room. That is, it had only one room above ground. That was the parlour and was for receiving guests. In the floor was a lockable trap door that opened to a narrow passage, which sloped downward, and led to the rest of the rooms. Not many other animals were small enough to use that passageway.

You will not be surprised to hear that the moles’ primary occupation was tunnelling. The children, Merwin and Melrose, were still learning the trade.

When Finn arrived, the brothers were out in the front yard digging a hole. The three had played together for years and were good friends.

“Hi, guys,” he said.

“Hi, Finn,” they replied in unison.

Finn told them of his water project, and the moles were very interested. They had never done a project on their own. This was an opportunity to prove themselves to their parents. From that point of view, it was obvious that they would agree to get involved and they did. Finn and the moles headed towards Mrs. Porcupine’s cottage to study the situation in more detail. On the way they took a detour so that the moles could show Finn the family’s latest tunnel project. It was a very complicated job and needed the full attention of their parents.

Shortly after Finn left, Sofie Squirrel came to open the bakery counter, and Petunia began her gardening.

Petunia’s garden and orchard were extensive, covering almost three acres. The garden was closest to the cottage. She grew lettuce, corn, beans, cucumbers, onions, tomatoes, strawberries, and more. The orchard had apple, plum, and cherry trees. It also had one very old and very large oak tree. The first time she saw it, ten years ago, she named the tree ‘Old Seth’. It was her favourite.

The day was just right for gardening, mild with a light breeze. She concentrated on the never ending task of weeding and debugging. Weeds were predictable. They popped up at regular intervals almost everywhere in the garden. The soil was well cared for and quite soft, so the weeds were easy to remove.

Bugs were another matter altogether. They attacked in waves at unpredictable intervals. She picked them, stomped them, shooed them, and sometimes bribed them away. It was a battle of wits. Petunia won most of the time, but the bugs gobbled their share of fruits and vegetables. The garden and orchard were large enough so that there were plenty left for the Ballymore residents.

It was lunchtime when Finn returned with the moles. Their timing was good as everyone knew that Petunia Porcupine served the best lunch in Ballymore. They had spinach salad with Russian dressing, egg salad on hot rolls, and vegetable soup. For dessert there was strawberry shortcake with whipped cream.