Title: The Gardener's Tribute
Format: short story
Genre: general, childhood, coming of age, friendship
Theme: B2MeM 2015
Elements: What kind of garden might Frodo have planted at Bag End? How did the Gaffer feel about it, and what help was Sam in the project?
Characters: Bilbo, the Gaffer, Frodo, Sam, Griffo Boffin, Aunt Dora, Gamgee family
Creators' Notes (optional): For Nancylea for her birthday.
Summary: Now, just why would Frodo plant dandelions atop the Hill?
Bilbo stepped out the kitchen door to find his gardener standing there, hand upraised to knock, looking quite wrongfooted to find that the door was no longer there as he prepared to rap upon it. “Why, Master Hamfast, what is it?” he asked. “You look quite out of countenance.”
“Don’t know naught about bein’ short on nothin like that, Mr. Bilbo, sir, but I’m definitely upset.”
“Yes, I can see. What is it that is bothering you?”
“Well, sir, it’s that lad o’yours.”
Bilbo was quite surprised. “Frodo? And how on earth can Frodo have you upset? He’s not played a prank upon you or Sam, has he?”
“A prank? Oh, no, sir—not that. Not that at all. Or mebbe it is. I can’t rightly say, if’n you take my meaning.”
“I’m quite certain I don’t—take your meaning, that is. Has he played a prank or not?” Bilbo knew well enough that Frodo could indeed play pranks quite handily if he chose, but he couldn’t imagine him playing one upon their good gardener.
“Well, Mr. Bilbo, sir, I must suppose as you must be the judge of that. It’s this garden of his as has me worrit up, you see.”
“Garden? Frodo has a garden of his own going?” Bilbo felt himself growing confused. Frodo had said nothing to him about growing any garden, and he certainly knew better than to tamper with any plot that the Gaffer was working on. “Where is he doing this? I’d not seen anything amongst the flower beds.”
“Oh, but it’s not here, not rightly speakin’, sir. It’s up there, atop the Hill.”
In moments Bilbo and the Gaffer were climbing to the top of the Hill, and he swiftly saw that Frodo had indeed been cultivating some ground up there, although he couldn’t imagine for the life of him what kind of bed he had going. It appeared to be designed as a circle. “When did he start this?” he asked Hamfast.
“About a week ago.”
“Do you know what he’s planted?”
“Yessir, Mr. Bilbo. Him’s planted dandelion seeds. And that’s what has me worrit up, sir, havin’ dandelions planted on purpose, like, where the seeds will blow out upon the gardens below.”
“Dandelions? Why on earth would he plant dandelions?”
“I don’t rightly know, and that’s a fact.”
Bilbo scratched his ear. Now, this was a puzzle indeed, why his young ward would decide to plant dandelions almost right atop the Hill, there toward the west side overlooking the flowers and fruit trees below. What made it even more puzzling was that Frodo had done so but had obviously been removing those dandelions that grew atop the Hill naturally. He could see the tell-tale divots where the plants and their roots had been grubbed up here and there about the place, clearing a great space around his bed. “Do you know where he’s at?” he asked the Gaffer.
“No, I don’t, sir. Asked me if’n Sam could go with him into the village, and then left with my lad in tow. Told me as they shouldn’t be gone more’n half an hour or so.”
“Well, I shall speak with him. However, as he’s working atop the hill and not in the flower or vegetable gardens themselves, I must advise you that I’m reluctant to tell him he must stop. But I shall inform him that he will be required to look out for dandelions that might grow down here as a result of his—project.”
That appeared to satisfy the gardener at least a bit, and he went back to his work. Bilbo intended to catch Frodo as soon as he returned, but the post got there first and there was correspondence he must see to, and he quite forgot his plan to waylay the lad and find out just what he was doing. It was tea time before Frodo came in, calling a cheerful hello as he headed down the hall to the privy and bathing rooms, announcing over his shoulder that he’d be washed up as swiftly as possible and would then be ready to help with preparing tea.
“As if you’ll actually be out in time to be of any help for anything but to help eat it!” Bilbo said quietly, not truly begrudging the lad.
When Frodo returned his hands were definitely scrubbed, but there was a smear of dirt on the cuff of his sleeve and a definite grass stain on his trousers. “You’ve been busy, have you?” Bilbo commented.
“Yes. Have a small project going atop the Hill, Uncle Bilbo, and I hope you don’t mind if I ask that you not go up there for two or three weeks until it’s all ready. It’s a surprise, you see.”
“If you wish it, dear boy. But I must advise you that you are to be on dandelion patrol in the gardens down here.”
“Oh, then the Gaffer told you about me planting dandelion seeds.”
“Yes. Whyever for, Frodo-my-lad?”
Frodo refused to look at him. He merely raised his chin and explained, “It’s part of the surprise.”
“And just who is to be the recipient of this surprise, Frodo Baggins?”
“The Gaffer. For his birthday.”
“But that’s not for four weeks.”
“I know. Sam and I have it all planned, and everything should be coming together right about then.”
“Well, he’s not particularly pleased to know you’ve been planting dandelions on purpose up there where the seeds will blow out over his flower and vegetable beds.”
“I can understand,” Frodo said, but his expression was thoughtful once the two of them sat down to eat cress sandwiches and ham rolls.
A few days later while Bilbo was strolling back across the Party Field after taking a look at the currant bushes that grew in the hedge beyond it, he looked up and realized he had a perfect view of Frodo’s garden. The dandelion plants were growing indeed in a circle, but the center of the circle had other plants in it. He couldn’t tell precisely what kinds of plants they were, not from this distance, at least. But they didn’t appear to be any bigger than the dandelion plants, whatever they were. “What on earth is the lad doing up there?” he wondered aloud. But when he asked Frodo about it, the lad merely answered that things were going well and his plants were doing precisely as he wished them to.
Two weeks passed and the dandelion plants were growing like the weeds they were usually considered, and the other plants also appeared to be thriving as well. Frodo and Sam went up for a half hour a day, and the grass was obviously filling in the spaces where Frodo had removed the “wild” dandelions. It looked so bright and green up there! Still. Bilbo found himself growing impatient to see just what the point of the project to surprise the Gaffer might be.
Then one day he noted that the dandelions were beginning to bloom, and soon the other plants were surrounded by a circle of brilliant yellow that was quite thick toward the top of the circle. The other plants were also growing, however, and he had the feeling that their buds would soon open as well.
“Do they let you go up there?” he asked the Gaffer three days before the gardener’s birthday.
“That they don’t,” was the reply, Hamfast Gamgee’s expression rather sour. “They planted somethin’ else aside them dandelions, but I can’t tell what, not yet. And they did it right, from what I can tell. Took up good soil from last year’s compost pile and prepared the bed, and are up there takin’ care of it ever’ day, them is. But I just can’t tell just what them two rascals is up to.”
Whatever it was, Sam appeared pleased no end. Bilbo overheard him confiding to Frodo, “It ought to be all bloomin’ proper for his birthday, right, Master Frodo?”
“That it should, Sam. And I do think he will be impressed.”
They were planning to have a party for the gardener out in the Party Field, so the next day Sam and Frodo worked all day with Bilbo to see things prepared. Bilbo hired the tent that the Ivy Bush set up to serve their beer and ale out of at the Free Fair and other festivals, and borrowed another from the Boffins to serve as a cook tent. Trestle tables were set up for the guests, and the stand for the musicians was assembled on the side of the area cleared for dancing. It was nearing sunset when they finished as much as they’d planned for the day, and as he headed back toward Bag End Bilbo looked up to see what was shaping up in Frodo’s dandelion garden.
“Primroses! Those are primroses!” he noted. Several were beginning to bloom, most of them of a peach color, although he saw at least one blue one and some that were pink as well. The yellow of the dandelions was less vibrant, though, and he was surprised to realize he was sorry this was so. They’d been so cheerful in appearance.
The next day others arrived to help finish the preparations for the party. Young Griffo Boffin worked hard all day long alongside the older Baggins and Frodo, seeing to it that jars of candles were ready to light up and wire to the branches of the great oak tree once it was time, and that the ale kegs were arranged in the ale tent as well as all of the mugs for the guests. Daisy, May, and Marigold brought out stacks of plates and baskets of napkins, and Frodo fetched down the pewter forks, knives, and spoons that would be used.
Hamson and Halfred Gamgee were come for the party, Half bringing with him tubs of flowering shrubs to add to the festive air of the place. As sunset approached and Griffo prepared to depart, he looked up to the top of the hill and commented, “Dandelions, eh? So, why did Frodo plant dandelions up there surrounding all those primroses?”
“I don’t know, not for certain. It’s supposed to be a surprise for the Gaffer’s birthday.”
“Some surprise when the dandelions are all ready to go to seed,” Griffo grunted. “Not that I’d think that the Gaffer would appreciate dandelions anywhere near his beloved gardens.”
“Actually, he doesn’t. But Frodo has promised to take care of any dandelion plants that seek to grow down amongst the flowers, so Hamfast seems to accept that it won’t hurt much in the end.”
Griffo turned to survey the work they’d done. “Well, this has gone well down here. I’ll be here shortly after noon to drink to the old fellow’s good health.”
“And I thank you, and look forward to you coming then.”
With that Griffo left, as did the rest of the volunteers. Sam and Frodo hurried up the hill for one last look at their project, and when Frodo came in he was definitely glowing with satisfaction. “It ought to be just perfect in the morning,” he announced, but refused to say anything else.
The next day dawned clear and bright, just right for a party, no matter how modest. All morning Frodo and Bilbo were busy taking down those dishes they’d prepared for the party fare, and immediately after an early luncheon the two of them bathed hastily and donned their most formal shirts and gayest waistcoats.
Precisely as the clock on the mantel chimed one the two of them descended to the Party Field to greet the guests in the name of the byrding. Hamfast arrived, his two older sons on either side of him and Sam, his eyes alight with excitement, running ahead to stand by Frodo and Bilbo. Daisy and May came after, each one holding onto one of Marigold’s hands to keep her from trying to keep up with her brother.
The guests arrived, with Aunt Dora leaning on young Griffo’s arm. “How Bright and Delightful a day for a Party!” she declared. “And how Thoughtful the two of you have been to prepare such a Celebration for Mr. Hamfast here. Many happy returns for the day, Master Gamgee,” she told him.
The gardener flushed with pleasure at this greeting. “And thank you, Missus Dora, for comin’ t’my party!” he said with a happy—if awkward--bow, pulling at his forelock.
But Sam was pulling at Frodo’s sleeve. “Did it come out right, Master Frodo?” he asked in a loud whisper, nodding toward the Hill.
Frodo glanced toward the top of the Hill, and smiled brightly. “You tell me, Samwise Gamgee,” he said, indicating that the lad should look up there for himself.
The others all turned to see what the two younger Hobbits were discussing, and Aunt Dora gave a clap of delight. “How Perfect! Frodo, is this your work?”
“It was Sam’s idea,” Frodo explained, clasping the lad by the shoulder.
“But it took you to see it done,” Sam said. “I’m not the one as figgered out how to place the plants,”
For atop Bag End primroses formed perfectly a portrait of Hamfast Gamgee, the face peach colored with pink cheeks and lips, and blue blossoms for his eyes, and his soft grey curls all formed out of dandelion clocks.