Episode the Thirteenth: Little Dot's Big Garden

By: Mr. E. S. Stranger

Since her mom started restricting her sweets, Dot had grown very concerned about the quality of the vegetables she was being fed. She checked to make sure her mom washed each item thoroughly, and even then she checked everything carefully. She usually found a flaw to discard.

"Who makes these?" she asked one day after discovering several spots of rust on her salad lettuce.

"They're grown on a farm," her mom replied.

"How do they grow them?"

Her mom explained how lettuce and other plants are planted as seeds and slowly nurtured until they grow up and are harvested for food. A light shown in Dot's eyes as she listened intently, and wheels in her head began to turn. She asked questions, but after a little while, her mom admitted she didn't know everything about how plants grew. Dot was silent.

"Can we go to the library?" she asked suddenly.

"Not right this minute," her mom replied, surprised. "Maybe tomorrow."

Dot put a trip to the library on the calendar for the next day. She spent the rest of that day distracting herself with Spiffyware catalogs and furniture diagrams for her house, but she got little sleep that night and bugged her mom about the library as soon as possible.

When they arrived at the library, Dot went immediately to the catalog and looked up the books on farming, gardening, and botany. She spent hours in the aisles, carefully selecting books and reading passages from some until she had decided on a total of thirty-six books that seemed most appropriate. She loaded these onto one of the wheeled carts she found and took them over to the front desk, where the librarian told her she had to choose no more than ten books. She tried to argue the necessity of having them all, but it was no use. At long, agonizing length, she chose the best ten and checked out.

At home, she closed herself in her room and opened five of the books. Out came the notebook paper, the chart paper, and the pens and pencils, and except for the occasional request that one of her associates bring her something, all that could be heard for hours was the turning of pages and scribbling on paper. The sun neared the horizon, and the light coming in through the window grew dim. When dinner was almost ready, her mom sent her brother to make her come out.

When Dot's brother opened her bedroom door, he was disturbed to see sketches, diagrams, and charts covering the floor and bed. Some had been tacked to the walls. "Dinner," he said.

Dot looked up, her expression a little dazed. "Hmm? What?"

"Dinner," he said.

She looked around, realizing how dark it was getting as she sat there. "Oh, wow," she said. "I had no idea it was this late. It was only a little after noon when I started."

"That was six hours ago," her brother replied.

Dot frowned and put her hand to her tummy. "I'm hungry," she said. "What are we having?"

"Come out and see," her brother said, walking out of the room.

Dot got hungrier as she walked into the kitchen, and after a couple helpings, she felt much better. She sat back, contented.

"I want to plant a garden," she said.

"Oh, really?" her mom said. "What kind?"

"The kind with plants."

"What kinds of plants?"

Dot hesitated. "Every kind."

"I don't think our backyard will fit that. Why don't you get a few little plants and see how they grow?"

"Hmm..." Dot said, a little disappointed but sure her mother knew some things. "I guess so. I want carrots."

"We can try planting some carrots."

"And onions."

"How big of a garden are you imagining?" her mother asked.

"I dunno. I want strawberries, too. And peppers. And radishes and peas. It would be nice to have some flowers. Just a few. And some tomatoes and eggplant..."

"Dot, you should pick a few for now."

Dot was pensive. This was just like the library all over again. "Ok," she said, somewhat sulkily.

"How about we go shopping for gardening supplies tomorrow, and I'll help you pick some things out?"

"Ok!" Dot said, excited.

Dot was excited about gardening all evening. That night, she crawled into bed amid the crinkle of papers and stared at the ceiling for a while. Her friends settled comfortably around the room. Minutes ticked by.

"Hey, guys," she said.

Toona pulled himself away from sleep.

"What's that, Little Dot?"

She smiled brightly. "I'm excited about my garden."

"Oh," Toona said. He wasn't sure whether he was supposed to say something else, so after a few moments, he added, "That's cool."

"Yep," Dot said. She was silent for a bit. Many, many seconds ticked away. "What should I plant first?"

Her companions waited a second. Funny Bunny hesitantly replied.

"Was that a question?"

"Yeah!" Dot answered.

"Umm...I don't know. Carrots?"

"Not radishes?" Dot asked.

"Okay. Radishes."

"Maybe carrots and radishes..." Dot said.

"Sure," Funny Bunny said. "Carrots and radishes. And celery."

"Oh, yes," Dot said. "I love celery."

"And peanut butter," Funny Bunny continued.

"Peanut butter-can you really plant that?"

"Peanuts, I mean," Funny Bunny continued. "And rutabega, and okra, and beets, and potatoes..."

"And cauliflower," Dot continued for him, "and broccoli, and starfruit, and yams, and pumpkin, and pomegranates, and prickly pear, and zucchini, and cucumber, and corn, and cilantro, and tomatoes, and wax peppers, and mung beans, and sassafras, and lemongrass, and...wait, did I say pumpkin already?"

"Who cares?" Funny Bunny asked. "It's good both times."

"You're right! We should plant it twice."

"Um..." Funny Bunny started, "when you say 'we,' of course you mean-"

"But what should we plant first?" Dot continued. "Lettuce? Cabbage? Cocoa beans?"

Toona offered a suggestion. "Carrots?"

"Carrots?" Dot asked. "Not radishes?"


"Boogey boogey boogey!" the Boogeyman said from under the bed, startling Dot.

"What's wrong?" Dot asked.

"Just getting your attention," the Boogeyman replied. "It's late."

"What time is it?"


"Oh, my," Dot said. "It's late."

The Boogeyman yawned. "Yes. I was nearly asleep."

"Well, I'm sorry, Boogeyman. I'll let you get your rest. Goodnight."

"Goodnight," the Boogeyman replied.

"Goodnight," a sleepy Toona said.

Dot reached out and scratched his belly. "Goodnight, Toona Bear."

Her frog called to her. "Goodnight, Little Dot."

"Goodnight, Frog."

"Night," Funny Bunny said last of all, and he was snoring before she could reply.

She lay there for a while, thinking about growing vegetables and fruit, and when she fell asleep at last, she dreamed that she was the leader of a vast plant army that obeyed her every command.

The next day, she and her mom bought some gardening supplies. Dot was only allowed to pick six plants to transplant and two packets of seeds, so Dot chose to transplant three tomato plants and three broccoli plants and to get eggplant and acorn squash seeds. She had read the books and knew when to plant each of these and when to harvest. They bought soil, too, and a formula to help the roots grow, and plant food to ensure optimal growth, and a couple decorative insects to dress the garden up and keep the plants company.

When they got home, Dot decided that there was enough time left in the day to at least prepare the soil. She found a how, a shovel, and some trowels in the shed in back and got tools for everyone. Soon, Jimi, Toona, Funny Bunny, and her frog were all gathered with her in the backyard to help her. Toona's allergies bothered him a little, but he stayed to show his support. Funny Bunny looked skeptically at his limp shoestring arms.

"Really, Little Dot, I'm not sure how much help I'm going to be."

"Just do what you can," Dot replied. "Toona, how are you doing over there?"

"Still allergic to the outdoors," said her bear. "I'm ok, though. Happy to help. So, what are we doing here?"

"We're breaking up the ground so that it's nice and loose for the plants."

"Oh," Toona replied. He stared at a trowel. "So, what end of this do I grab?"

Dot showed him how to use it. He tried it but had some trouble gripping the handle with his nearly-fingerless paws. Dot decided to move on to her next worker.

"Keep practicing," she said to Toona.

Frog spoke before she could say anything. "I'll figure it out."

She nodded and turned to Jimi. "Ok, horsedog, it's time to get you all harnessed up."

Jimi looked up sharply at that. "What? All you said is that we were going to go digging outside. I can do that. What's this about a harness?"

"You're going to pull the plow," Dot answered. "It's the most important job."

Jimi looked at the tools. "I don't think I'm that kind of horse."

"Well, then, what kind of a horse are you?"

Jimi looked around nervously. He wanted to dig, not to be interrogated.

"I'm a yard horse," he said.

Dot nodded slowly. "Oh. What's that?"

"It's...a horse that likes to dig. With its hooves."

"Ok...well, then, have fun."

Jimi gave a pant of relief and began to tear into the garden beds. Frog turned the hose on a trickle to keep moist as they worked. They worked on the garden for about half an hour. At the end of it, Dot was exhausted from shoveling, Frog from hopping about trying to move what dirt he could while avoiding the clods thrown by Jimi, Toona from struggling to grip the trowel, Funny Bunny from trying, futilely, to lift any of the tools, and Jimi from doing most of the work with his paws. Dot looked around at all of this and sighed heavily.

"That'll do, I guess," she said. "Inside, everyone. We plant tomorrow."

Toona and Funny Bunny groaned. Frog and Jimi were silent.

"Don't worry!" Dot said. "We just did the hard part. The planting's easy!"

The next day, she gathered her helpers for the planting. The tomato and broccoli plants needed transplanted right away, she explained, so they needed to make sure there was enough room for those plants, and then they'd plant as many seeds as they could.

"We need to dig a hole for each of the transplants that's at least five inches deep," she explained, and she pointed at Jimi, who had been raising his paw. "Yes, Jimi?"

The dog put his paw down. "Can I have this job? I've never been allowed to dig in the yard before, and I'm really enjoying this gardening thing."

Dot nodded. "Sure. Dig the holes eighteen inches apart."

Jimi immediately started tearing up the ground again, and Dot followed behind, putting tomato and broccoli plants down into the soil. When they were done, Dot surveyed her garden and made some calculations.

"I think we should be able to plant a bunch of our seeds, too. I'll put them in place. Funny Bunny, will you push them down into the soil?"

"You got it!" Funny Bunny answered, and as Dot put seeds on top of the loose soil, Funny Bunny poked them down with the hard plastic ends of his shoestring arms. Frog spent the time cooling off and keeping moist; Toona watched and sneezed.

"There," Dot said when they reached the end of the last row. "That's all we can do for now. Now we need to water these and stimulate good root growth. Frog, I'm going to need to borrow your hose for a moment."

Frog nodded and looked on as Dot took it and got a watering can. As an afterthought, she filled one of Jimi's spare water dishes and handed it to the frog, who began splashing about right away. She put some formula into the can, filled it the rest of the way with water, and watered as many plants as she could with this. She repeated the process until all of the plants were watered. When she was done, she stepped back and admired her handiwork.

"Very nice," she said. "Now to watch it all grow."

Toona looked over at the untouched bags of rich soil. "What do we do with those?"

Dot stared at them in surprise. "Oh. Right. I forgot we had that. I guess we'll just have to use it on the next batch of plants."

"So..." Toona began, "...this next batch...when will that be, exactly?"

"I don't know," Dot said, "but this was fun. I'm going to see if Mom'll take me to get more plants."

Her frog looked around. "Where would we put them? We've used up the space she said you could have for your garden."

"Oh, I'll think of something," Dot said. "So! Let's talk gardening duties. Jimi, you're responsible for keeping rabbits and squirrels away."

"I'll do my best," Jimi replied. "But what will I do if I'm not allowed out when the rabbits and squirrels are out?"

"Bark," Dot answered.

"I get in trouble if I bark."

Dot shrugged her shoulders. "In that case, stand at the sliding glass door and look menacing."

"Um...okay," Jimi said, and he began to practice his menacing look.

Dot turned to her frog. "Frog, you'll be in charge of eating invasive insects."

The frog saluted. "I will protect the plants from all manner of yummy invaders."

Dot looked at Toona. "Toona, I guess you can help Frog. I read that bears eat bugs, too."

Toona shook his head. "I'm afraid I can't eat anything," he said. "I'm stuffed."

Dot nodded. "You and Funny Bunny can help me remember to water and feed the plants. Alright, then. That's it for today."

They headed in. All evening and all night, all Dot could think about was her garden. At dawn, she got dressed and went outside to inspect them. Not much had changed. She went out several times that day, watching for signs that the transplants were growing and the seeds were sprouting. Her mother saw her staring out the window, drumming her fingers on the table.

"They're not going to grow while you watch them, Dot," her mom said, laughing a bit. "You'll have to be patient."

Dot kept anxiously drumming her fingers on the table. "How long do they take to grow?"

"They take weeks, Dot. Just keep taking care of them."

The fingers drummed and drummed. "Can we get some more?"

"That's enough for now, Dot. I'm not made of money."

"But I forgot to use my soil, and there are seeds left, and I wanted to plant some other things, too."

"No, Dot," her mother said more sternly. "You don't even have a place to put them. You can use that part of the yard you're using. I don't want you tearing up the rest."

Dot could tell her mother was serious, so she didn't press the issue. Day after day passed, during which she did, with some help, remember to water the plants. When the time came, she fed them. Slowly, they did grow. Dot itched to do more before it was too late in the season.

One day, she went over to the house Zoyla had given her and logged into her computer there. She was looking at her bank account balance when she heard the voice of her frog.

"Whatcha doin'?" her frog asked.

"Did you follow me here?" she replied.

"Yep," said the frog. "I follow you a lot of places, just in case you need a song sung."

"Oh," said Dot. "That's awfully nice of you."

"No problem," said the frog. "But seriously, now, whatcha doin'?"

"Looking at my bank balance," Dot replied.

Her frog nodded. "That's all money from your brokerage and realty company, isn't it?"

"Yep," said Dot. "It's enough to cover my property taxes for the rest of my life. I was just wondering if perhaps I can spare a little."

"Be careful, Little Dot."

"I will, frog. I'm not going to use all of it. Plus, I found a good deal on a gardening service."

"You're hiring someone?"

"Sure! I can't do it all myself. I have big plans. I need to take a more strategic role as my garden expands."

"What's the service?"

"Mysterious Stranger, Inc.," Dot answered.

"That's a funny name for a gardening service."

"Well, their rates are well below the others," Dot said. "I'll really only need to worry about supplies, water, taxes...you know, everything other than labor."

"Taxes?" the frog asked.

Dot nodded and went back to her computer screen. "I'll write it out for all of you later. Right now I need to focus. Apparently, you can't grow dill pickles, but I think I've found a good price on cucumbers. Do you think a tenth of an acre of cucumber is too much or too little?"

"I don't know, Little Dot," replied the frog.

"That's all right," Dot said. "I'll figure it out. Hmm...for twenty percent off, it might be worth it to get another thousand seeds..."

The frog wandered off as she researched, planned, and purchased. She returned to her mom's house in time for dinner. After dinner, she went to her books and her computer and made plans late into the night. Some time around midnight, she stumbled into bed and fell unconscious.

The next day, the trucks came. Dot's friends watched, astonished, as her yard across the street transformed into a lush garden. Toona, Funny Bunny, Jimi, and the frog went across the road together to inspect it. Dot had sunglasses on and a clipboard in hand and was directing the professionals who were setting up her new garden.

"Alternate the strawberries and onions!" she shouted at one group. Then, to another: "No, no, no! Space those artichokes out better! Yes, more like that! I want them producing delicious vegetables, not killing each other."

"Hey, Dot," said Toona.

Dot looked around. "Hey, Toona. Hey, everyone else. Whadaya think?"

Toona looked around at all the growing rows of plants. "That's a lot of plants," he said.

"Isn't it grand?" Dot said. She didn't hear an answer, so she turned and saw the others staring in amazement at the developing garden.

"So...um..." Funny Bunny began at last, "what gardening duties are being assigned again?"

"Oh, don't worry," Dot said. "I'm having a drip system put in so that it all gets watered automatically. I've got pest control people coming next Tuesday, and these guys will take care of the feeding schedule, and I've made some arrangements for harvest time. "It's all taken care of. You all can still manage the tiny garden at my mom's house, of course."

"Oh, good," said Funny Bunny. "I was afraid I'd have no responsibilities."

"Yep," Dot continued, "it's all arranged. My garden will thrive, and I can make plans for next year. It's so beautiful."

She breathed in deeply, and then she began to cough. Her friends watched as she coughed a great, deep cough, and then another, and then another.

"I don't feel good," she said.

She went back to her mom's house, where her mom discovered that Dot had a fever. Dot's mom gave her some broth for dinner and some medicine to bring the fever down, and then Dot went to bed. She tried working on the plans for her garden, but she gave up quickly and passed out.

At first, she had the flu. After a few miserable days of the flu, her illness turned into sauntering pneumonia, which turned into merrily skipping pneumonia. This was followed by bronchitis, which went away. Just as she was recovering her strength, though, she felt ill again. In no particular order, she had sinusitis, laryngitis, pharyngitis, dermatitis, arthritis, gastritis, appendicitis, tonsillitis, Christmaslightis, menintightis, tuberculosis, pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanokoniosis, scoliosis, osteoporosis, osmosis, thrombosis, itchy toeses, runny noses, and a number of other things too obscure to mention. By the time she was well again, her doctor had grown tired of diseases ending in "itis" and "osis" and had started researching a few words ending in "oma" that he might be able to diagnose her with.

During all that time, she managed sometimes to work on diagrams and other paperwork for her gardens, but she wasn't able to go out and see how they were coming along. She received documents indicating that the garden was coming along nicely, and multiple times, her mother commented on the comings and goings of a large number of trucks labeled "D&Z Whole Foods." Dot smiled sometimes when she heard how certain harvests went, but she slowly lost interest. Eventually, she stopped reading the messages that came to her altogether.

She woke up one morning feeling strange. She couldn't quite identify the feeling, but it persisted. She felt it the next day as well, and the next. After a week of this unsettling sensation had gone by, she realized that it was the sensation of being reasonably healthy. Soon after that, she remembered her garden and realized she had the time and strength to go see it again. She went outside.

It was cold outside. Her garden was smaller; many of the plants had died of for the year and were gone. There were no flowers. Some of the plants had survived, but this was not the great, robust, blooming garden she had dreamed about. It looked like it, too, had got sick. She didn't know whether it should be that way at that time of year. It was winter. Most of a year had gone by. She had lost touch with her project.

She went back inside and into her room to search through the piles of papers for the stack of unopened mail. When she found it, she began opening her mail to see what important news she had missed.

"Credit card offer..." she said to herself. "Bill...quarterly earnings statement...merger proposal...what's this?"

One of the envelopes was simply addressed with a lowercase letter "d." She opened it up and found a note inside.

"Dear Little Dot," the note said, "as you have ceased answering messages or otherwise making known your wishes concerning your garden, I have not cleared away the old plants or planted any new ones. Watering, feeding, and weeding continue as usual. I hope, once you are well enough to trouble yourself with such matters, that you will send over your plans for the next growing season. Yours Sincerely, The Mysterious Stranger."

Dot looked up to see that Toona, Funny Bunny, and her frog were reading over her shoulder. The frog spoke.

"So, are you gonna try your garden again?"

"I don't know," Dot said. "I completely missed all parts of the growing season this year. What if I just get sick again? I don't want to work hard to start it and not get to enjoy it."

"Did you like making the garden?" Toona asked.

"Yeah..." Dot answered thoughtfully. "I liked doing something myself. I liked building something."

"Not totally by yourself," Funny Bunny interjected.

"No, that's true, I had help," Dot said, "but I designed it. It think that's why I liked it."

"So then," said the frog, "should we get to work again?"

Dot thought. She thought and thought. She thought and thought and thought. Toona and Funny Bunny had given up waiting patiently and were playing rock, paper, scissors, which neither played very well without fingers, when Dot spoke again.

"Yes," she said. The others looked over at her.

"Yes what?" Funny Bunny asked.

"Yes, I want to rebuild my garden. I want to make something myself, and I'll start with fruits and veggies. This time, though, I'll focus more on the smaller garden here. I'll go with my mom to get more plants, and we'll actually use the soil this time. I think I..."

She rummaged through her papers again. "Yes, here it is. While I had nothing else to do, I wrote up a game plan for planting the next garden. Let's go over it so each of us knows what he or she needs to do."

She went over the diagram, which looked something like a map of a football play and had a unique symbol for her and for each of her friends, with the others. They listened. That night, Dot went to sleep and dreamed of stuffed eggplant, fried green tomatoes, and garlic mashed potatoes, all made using only ingredients from her garden. And in her dream, at least, it was all delicious.