To be clear, this is not actually Mr. Wilson.

To be clear, this is not actually Mr. Wilson. (iStock)

“Brrrrring!” the old doorbell rang promptly at 6:45 p.m. It was a drizzly spring evening in England, where the Navy had stationed us a few months prior. I was upstairs, so my husband, Francis, answered the door, a heavy original from 1863, the year our Victorian rental house was built.

“May I help you?” Francis asked while holding our infant son. The elderly gentleman standing on our pea gravel walkway wore a black trenchcoat and felt trilby hat. Small in stature, he looked like a private detective from a 1960s film noir. All he needed was to pop his trench collar and light up a cigarette.

But instead, he said with a perfect British accent, “Good evening. I’m Mr. Wilson and I’ve come calling for Mrs. Molinari.”

Francis didn’t know whether to shake the man’s hand or slug him in the gut. On one hand, Mr. Wilson was wearing a classically suspicious trenchcoat while demanding to see his wife. On the other hand, the situation seemed more like the beginning of a prom date. Francis’ potential reaction ran the gamut from putting Mr. Wilson in a choke hold to offering to take photos.

Sensing confusion, Mr. Wilson explained in a most civilized tone, “I’ve offered to accompany Mrs. Molinari tonight to a meeting of the Ramsey Horticultural Society. We meet fortnightly at The George public house on High Street.”

“Ah, yes,” Francis said, not quite putting all the pieces together, “I think Lisa mentioned something about a meeting at the pub ... let me get her.” Francis called up the long staircase in the hallway, “Honey! Mr. Wilson is here!”

“Coming!” I bellowed back. During the rush to put dinner on the table and feed the baby, I had briefly mentioned to Francis that I was going to a meeting, but I had failed to mention Mr. Wilson.

We’d met a few weeks prior, when Mr. Wilson passed by our front garden on his way to Sainsbury’s. When he noticed me digging in the front beds, he poked his head over our ornate iron fence, introduced himself and told me about the various flowering plants growing in the borders. Hollyhocks, Clematis, Foxglove, Iris, Primrose, Mock Orange and Bleeding Hearts, not to be confused with Love Lies Bleeding.

I learned that he was the retired head gardener for Lord de Ramsey, John Ailwyn Fellowes. Lord de Ramsey was a land baron who had inherited his family’s 6,000-acre estate, including our rental house. Like Mr. Wilson, many of the retired staff that worked the lord’s estate were housed in the cottages on our end of the village. My neighbors included the lord’s retired butler, housekeepers, cooks, nannies, drivers and farmworkers.

Despite the 45-year age difference, I was lonely after moving to a foreign country, so I welcomed their friendship.

Mr. Wilson always stopped if he saw me in my garden. One day, he asked if I’d like to join him at a meeting of the Ramsey Horticultural Society. Desperate for socialization, I jumped at the chance.

I grabbed my raincoat from the hall tree and kissed the baby. There was a dodgy moment when I thought Francis was going to give us a curfew, but he just smiled paternally. Mr. Wilson offered to share his old-fashioned umbrella for the walk to the pub, and we left down the pea gravel path.

I was the only one under 60 at the Horticultural Society meeting. But I grabbed a cup of tea and mingled until we were called to watch a riveting slideshow presentation on “The Indigenous Cacti of Coastal Peru.”

That evening, I embarrassed myself several times, using “cactuses” instead of “cacti” and asking rudimentary questions that revealed my lack of horticultural knowledge. I realized that I wasn’t cut out for the Horticultural Society quite yet.

For our entire three-year tour, I continued my impromptu lessons from Mr. Wilson anytime he passed by my garden. Mr. Wilson was a handsome gentleman, but our little rendezvous weren’t romantic, much to Francis’ relief. However, they awakened in me a lifelong love of gardening, and offered a unique opportunity for social companionship, something all military spouses desire.

Read more at and in Lisa’s book, “The Meat and Potatoes of Life: My True Lit Com.” Email:

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