A recurring theme in Kiss Me Over the Garden Gate is gardens—gardens as places of pleasure, creativity, hard work and metaphors for aspects of our lives. In the story’s epilogue, Clare Stone works in her long-dead mother-in-law’s garden, trying to figure out what Richard’s mother intended by the way she chose and grouped plantings.
In late October my mother-in-law, Anita Souza Popik, died and my husband Bill and I spent a week in the house his parents had shared for 56 of the 69 years of their marriage. Anita’s garden is a spectacular living example of her energy, talent and eye for beauty. In the past two years, she had not been strong enough to spend much time on the steeply terraced hillside garden she created and worked in for all those years. Whenever I asked her about it, she would shake her head about how much needed to be done and how frustrated she was at not being able, despite a garden helper, to have it just the way she wanted. (Believe me, my mother-in-law was very determined to have things just the way she wanted.)
One morning when there were a few unfilled hours, I went out into the garden to see how it looked after being neglected for so long. What struck me was that it looked quite good. The patio area at the top of the terraces was well tended, still beautiful in the California autumn, and weedless. It looked to me as if Anita must have sneaked outside and tended the plant beds, even though her balance was precarious and she had been urged not to go beyond the patio. A few steps down the hillside was a different story. Goosegrass and spurge were easy to recognize and yank out but there was another plant, low-growing, with small dried flowers that covered large sections of the beds. I couldn’t figure out what it was and felt a pang that I couldn’t ask Anita if it was a groundcover she had planted intentionally or weeds I didn’t recognize. As I crouched on the path, feeling my mother-in-law’s absence keenly, it occurred to me that I was reenacting the epilogue of my novel, but this time it was fact, not fiction.