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Former L.A. City Councilman Richard Alarcon:…

Garden Clippings: Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

But ‘til then we’ll have to muddle through somehow.

I used to see a psychiatrist.

Anyways as I went on and on about dogs and birds and wooded trails, the shrink, when he was not sleeping, would say, “you are not Mother Nature.”

True. But not really the insight I was paying for twice-a-week.

There is no gardening gene in me. I come from people who were always ready to flee, no front porches or land ownership for them. They were chased by Tsarists. With brisket still in the oven, they ran for their lives. Not all of them made it. The ones who did hid under wood planks in boats sailing to America. Sitting around the dining room table could never be taken for granted by the older generation in my family.

My brother and I, however, ate in front of the TV fighting over the remote control in the finished basement that sported a fully stocked bar, jukebox and pinball machine. The Cadillac sat in the driveway, the doll-head peonies leaned against the red brick wall as the adults spoke in a horseradish-tinged language.

“I dream of having land,” I told the shrink, who went on to date my best friend as I went on with the divorce never having to pop a psychotropic pill.


I lived in 25 apartments in Chicago. I waited tables in 4-inch platforms and walked through below-zero weather in one layer of wool, I called my Elvis Costello coat. I had two indoor plants I took with me to each new place--a zebra plant and donkey tails.

The gardening bug bit me late one November when my second husband and I and our dog Lulu moved to Highland Park, Illinois. It was almost Christmas and I strung lights in and out of the fuzzy branches of yew. My neighbor who drove a bread truck, plowed the snow from our driveway. I looked in on his wife who had been so lively until she had a stroke.

Ice melted, it rained, Lulu was always covered in mud where you could almost smell the worms. Spring to summer, I sought out beautiful gardens and asked the homeowners endless questions; raided the garden section at the library; wrote a garden column; and bought so many bags of compost that I told Oscar at the garden center, "cut me off!"

I planted Arborvitae, clematis, rudebakia, cosmos, coreopsis, monarda. Perennials that just don’t thrive for me here.

Such is the nostalgia for Chicago and for the people I come from.

I celebrate my tenth Christmas here in this beautiful American city of Los Angeles, where bald men pretend not to be and blondes pretend they are. And where the quintessential L.A. look is roses spilling over fences intertwined with gumdrop-colored minilights.

Unapologetic, I am a mixbreed. Chicago by way of Russia by way of California girl. No hot combs, no manicures, I wear sensible flats in Ralphs and bundle up in three layers when it's 45 degrees at night on that coyote-studded magical stretch of Laurel Canyon.

I come to Christmas via Hart, the happy marriage, with such full-blown zeal only a true assimilated capitalist can appreciate. The pump was primed long ago. My mom was more excited than I was as she held my mittened hand as we peered through the bedecked windows at Marshall Fields downtown on State Street. My dad dressed up as a very skinny unconvincing Santa carrying a gunny sak of toys. And on the new stereo, I can remember hearing Judy Garland's bittersweet rendition, and of course my favorite carol, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."

Merry is hard to come by. It is elusive as trying to get my Afghan Hound Huck to pose for a holiday card or to create that perfect garden. It’s not gonna happen. But we try.


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