Philip Schirmer
Egg tempera portrait of an older woman with her index finger touching her lips

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The Secret Gardener

If you telephone Claudia, her answering machine message announces, “You have found the Secret Gardener. ‘Doctor Hopper’ does not receive phone calls between 4 and 6, M through F.” Afternoons are set aside for Democracy Now! or NPR Opera broadcasts. There is no bending this routine. Mornings, weather permitting, she earns money tending the gardens of wealthy summer residents. Sadly, she has never owned her own garden. Despite a difficult and turbulent life, she has maintained a feisty resilience. She arrived to sit for this portrait dressed in silk and pearls, but had spent the morning working in a client’s garden. She waved dirt-filled fingernails, then sat down to pose.