Racketeer

Ditch Lily’s racket lands him in court–again. Will a backroom deal and two pretty gals save him this time?
Sixth in my “Hort Court” series.These stories were originally printed in The Point (the community newspaper of the Crown Point neighbourhood in East Hamilton, Ontario) in my regular gardening column “Lovin’ Your Garden”.

by Bev Wagar

Hemerocalis fulva lived in a lot of places, always by himself, always on the move. Right now he was headquartered on a creek bank near what the humans call a farmhouse, but he also hung out in ditches and in the ravine where Dogwood and Viburnum used to live. His street name was Boss Ditch or Ditch Lily but when he bloomed, and those huge bright orange blossoms didn’t last for long, he liked being called Hemy. Among the local gangs, he’d fought hard and expanded his turf, edging out the small-time thugs. Now it was just Hemy the Ditch Lily, running the racket, no competition, no troublesome upstarts trying to set down roots.

Hemy was often mistaken for his mild-mannered cousin Daylily, who wasn’t on the payroll and usually hung out in gardens, not ditches. Hemy hated it when the meadow-dwellers mistook him for his hybrid relative. Neither of them was a true lily—Hemy often boasted about knocking out lily bulbs in a single punch. Hemy had nothing but scorn for the uppity Daylily, who didn’t have an ounce of muscle and never revealed the fact that she had descended from his family, back in east Asia.

One day, in early June, Hemy received a visit from Bullfrog who was on town crier duty.

“Rrrrribit! Mama Nature requests your presence at the courtyard, Ditch.”

“That’s ‘Hemy’ to you, wartface. What does the old broad want now?” he snarled under his sword-like leaves.

“There’s another charge against you. Racketballing or something like that.”

“What? I paid the fine last time! Those meddling native species oughta leave me alone to run my, er, business.”

Seeing that Hemi was in no mood to comply with the summons, Kingfisher, who happened to be flying overhead on creek patrol, dropped out of the sky, grabbed the big-headed flower, set Bullfrog on his back, and flew to the courtyard where he unceremoniously dropped the plant but allowed Bullfrog to gently dismount.

The courtyard was filling up fast. Vinca fidgeted in the back row, wistfully remembering his creekside years before Ditch Lily broke up his secret pyramid scheme. Beside him sat a glowering Garlic Mustard, so angry that he ripened a few seeds and aimed them squarely at his former boss. Today’s verdict might provide an opportunity for revenge.

The good-time garden gals Morning Glory and Larkspur gossiped loudly in the front row, anxious for the drama ahead. They’d heard the rumours of Ditch’s strongarm tactics and land grabs but they’d never actually met him. Secretly they thought he was a handsome rogue and hoped he’d pay them a visit one day.

“Order! Order!” cried Bullfrog. “Mr. Prosecutor, what are the charges against Hemerocalis fulva a.k.a. Ditch Lily?”

“Racketeering is what is says here,” he replied, “Same as last time. Perhaps we’ll see some true justice today, not just another warning.” M. (Mama) Nature hovered over the courtyard but didn’t seem to hear this little dig—she was busy scheduling rain to help out some parched Elderberries, Red Lobelia, and Swamp Milkweed.

“I only go where I’m invited,” whined Hemy. “It’s not my fault that the humans chop down all the trees on slopes and banks and suddenly they need me to stop the erosion. I’m useful that way.”

“But so are buttonbush and virginia creeper and jewelweed and dogwood,” said the prosecutor. “Not to mention sumac and the viburnum clan. You should let them have some space too.”

“They don’t call me Boss Ditch for nothing. I’m big and fast. A real turnkey operation. Those wimps just get in my way!”

To prove this point he loaded up his root system and shot a round of rhizomes into the courtyard. The kickback knocked several big blooms off his huge head—the audience gaped in speechless horror at the pile of garish orange petals on the ground.

“You didn’t know this about me, I see,” he growled. “Yes, each bloom only lasts one day. But there’s more where that came from.” He shook a few fat buds at the disbelievers.

While court janitors Daisy and Petunia were busy removing new plants that had sprung from Ditch’s scattered roots, Garlic Mustard had sidled up to the gals. In a suave tone he told Morning Glory and Larkspur that, if they’d go along with his plan, he’d mention their virtues to his former comrade. Thrilled at the prospect, the girls nodded their support.

With the Prosecutor pleading and the audience cowering, Mustard sauntered over to his rival, who was reloading for another volley. Mustard swallowed his pride and proposed a deal.

“You don’t do so well in the shade. Not like me,” said Garlic Mustard. “So listen up. How about you get the ditches, the creeksides, and all the gardens the Humans plunk you in. In return I get the forests, woodlots, alleys, and dark corners. Whadya say?”

Hemy knew this was a good deal—these were territories he wouldn’t have to defend. So the two shook leaves in agreement and Hemy went back to firing on the now-empty courtyard. When he finally ran out of rhizomes, Mustard called Glory over. She whispered something in Hemy’s ear. He rose to his full 5 feet and smiled with anticipation.

“Mind you, it’s just for one week,” said Glory. “And you need to stay in the pot when you visit our part of the garden.” Larkspur swayed demurely, her blue tresses alluringly close to Hemy. The girls led him out a back gate and no one, not even Mama Nature, witnessed the escape.

By August, Hemy had outstayed his welcome in the garden and the girls wanted him gone. But he’d already pushed roots through the bottom of the pot and had set up another base of operations. Larkspur called out for Mourning Dove, asking her to bring a message to Mama Nature. She would beg Mama for relief from the thug who’d defiled their nice garden.

“It’s terrible!” she exclaimed. “My seeds can’t find a single bit of bare soil. It’s all covered by that horrible brute.”

“And Bee doesn’t come by any more—none of the insects visit his flowers. Even Deer doesn’t like him,” added Morning Glory.

Mourning Dove delivered the desperate message the very same day. But Mama was too busy dealing with an outbreak of wooly adelgid in the hemlock grove. It would be up to the humans to deal with Ditch Lily this time.

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