A Growing Suspicion

Published in 2014; author Jacqueline Debmar Greene; illustrator Sergio Giovine


Rebecca is spending a whole week with Ana during spring break. Ana shows her the little garden she's starting, with the seedlings still in pots. They go to transfer them to the raised bed only find the weeds gone, which is good, but Ana's second-hand gardening tools gone as well.While they puzzle over why someone would take the tools but also prepare the garden for planting, Ana's neighbor, Mr. Tanaka, comes to visit. He and his wife moved to New York City from Japan some time ago, shortly after their teenage son died. He tells Ana about a gardening class to be held at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens that summer. Ana doesn't have the ten cents ($2.38 in 2014) it costs to take the class, nor is she old enough--the class is for people twelve and up, and she's only eleven. But Mr. Tanaka says that if she helps him with the Japanese garden section of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, he might be able to get her into the class. Stranger things have been happening, as if someone's trying to cause trouble for the new section. Rebecca comes along, too. The cousins are fascinated with the beautiful and often-silent Mrs. Tanaka (although she's very standoffish to them), and enjoy seeing the Japanese garden. Mr. Tanaka has a sand garden that needs daily raking, and he asks the girls to tend to it. They spend the whole morning carefully sculpting the sand, but when the find Mr. Tanaka and the three return, they find a pair of tourists tromping around the off-limits parts of the Japanese gardens. The sand has been disturbed, but when Rebecca points out that the tourists were the likely culprits, Mr. Tanaka counters that she shouldn't blame people without evidence and says the girls must not have raked carefully enough. 

The next day more things go wrong. Part of it is Rebecca's fault--she sees the tourist couple and tries to tail them but gets distracted and falls, damaging a railing. Still, she wouldn't have fallen if a stepping stone anchor weren't mysteriously broken. Someone also put a potted fern in Ana's lunch, and it fell and smashed when she opened her lunchbox. The woman in charge, Miss Ward, wants both Rebecca and Ana barred from the Garden, but Mr. Tanaka points out that things have been showing up damaged for a few weeks now, before either girl stepped foot in the place. Miss Ward relents, but the girls better not be near any more trouble. Ana is upset too, worried Rebecca will cost her the summer class. When the next day brings yet more vandalism even before Rebecca and Ana arrive, Mr. Tanaka has them go to watch Mrs. Tanaka make Japanese flower arrangements. On the way there, the girls overhear a worker, Nathaniel, arguing with someone, but the conversation is too far away to hear clearly. Rebecca wants to go investigate, but Ana insists they not deviate from the plan. Rebecca does go a short way down the path where Nathaniel was, but sees nothing and turns back before Ana gets too annoyed with her. 

That night, the mystery of Ana's garden is solved. Mr. Tanaka has been using a shed near her raised beds to grow bonsai trees secretly. He did her work for her so she wouldn't have reason to linger near the shed and possibly see what he was doing. He think he'll soon lose his job, but he can sell the bonsai trees. However, if he sells them, then he's using the shed for business and the landlord will want to charge him extra rent. The Tanakas can't afford that, especially if the Garden deem them unnecessary for the Japanese garden upkeep. As Mr. Tanaka explains, Rebecca has a flash of insight. She and Ana must get to the Garden early tomorrow.

It takes some convincing, but Rebecca gets her cousin to the Garden first thing the next morning. They see Nathaniel prowling about and Ana follows him. But Rebecca sees Mrs. Tanaka...destroy a fountain! There's a flurry of activity. Nathaniel confesses to being homeless (he's sixteen and aged out of his orphanage) and living at the Garden. Miss Ward knew about this and was allowing it for a little while, but without her boss's permission. Rebecca and Ana are blamed the damages and about to be banned from the Garden permanently. Then Mrs. Tanaka speaks up. She confesses that she's been trying to create work for her husband so that he won't loose his job. Her apology and desperation impact the Garden director and he insists that Mr. Tanaka's job is secure. He also says that Nathaniel has proven himself capable of a promotion, but he can't live on the Garden property. The Tanakas have a solution: he can live with them. Amends are made all around, and Rebecca can hardly wait to visit her cousin again.

Looking Back

Learning about nature through the experience of growing one's own food was an important part of the schooling of many children in Rebecca's time, particularly those in crowded cities. A Brooklyn teacher named Ellen Eddy Shaw was especially vocal about this belief. She ended up working at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and set aside part of it as garden space where schoolchildren could claim one of 150 small plots in which to tend their plants. Today there are more than a thousand plots. The Brooklyn Botanic Garden also houses a Japanese garden, first opened in 1915 when Americans were growing more curious about Japanese culture. It also still operates today.


This book is dedicated to "Ken and Doug, the wizards of Hudson Valley Seed Library, saving gardens one seed at a time."

I have a little container garden too (the yard isn't suitable for gardening...too muddy and gross...later when we have a house, though...). So far the potatoes are doing well and the lettuce is okay. The carrots might work, the onions maybe, and the cucumbers are an inch long.

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