Fennel and Frogspit

A Garden Trip Piques the Interest of Two Brothers

| February/March 1998

  • illustration by Michael Eagleton

“Frog spit! I’m telling you, it’s frog spit!” the older boy insisted to his incredulous younger brother.

Along with their mother, the two boys, aged ten and twelve, had arrived at the garden just at closing time. Their mother had gone directly into the shop, and I had followed her. Suddenly, in midstride, holding up a bar of soap, she had turned to me and said, “Uh-oh, those boys are quiet.”

So that she might shop in peace, I offered to step outside and check on the boys. The two were standing beside the long bed of bronze fennel.

Before fennel plants shoot up flower spikes, they look like a bronze and green hazy mist, so soft that from a distance, the raised bed looks like a low, dark cloud or a puff of smoke. Sometimes, the fennel bed reminds me of a big, comical, furry animal with its legs and head hidden.

Before I had walked the length of the garden, the boys were busy petting the fennel, running their hands back and forth over the foliage and giggling at the sensation. When they saw me approaching, they dropped their hands to their sides, looking guilty.

“We weren’t hurting the plants. It just tickles our hands,” the older one volunteered, his eyes lowered as if he were about to be punished. Before I could answer, the younger child blurted out, “Tommy says that’s frog spit.”

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