“A visitor to a garden sees the successes, usually. The gardener remembers mistakes and losses, some for a long time, and imagines the garden in a year, and in an unimaginable future. There are young trees in the ground. The days are much too short, they go by too fast, and we wish for rain and the sound of water among the rocks.”
In 2006, on the day after Thanksgiving, I walked the yard of my new house. I was watching a friend’s German Shorthaired Pointer (because I am crazy like that – simultaneously dog sitting and moving) and needed to get away from the boxes. I had only moved in three days before and had the day off to unpack. As the temporary canine and I strolled the property and dodged the saplings I said out loud : What the f&#k had I gotten myself into?
Homeownership was a long time coming; I searched for an antique house for almost two years and because it was during the peak of the housing boom, affordable options were hard to come by. On a picture perfect August day I found it. It was large, had 31 windows, a fantastic wraparound porch, peeling paint and character – the whole megillah. It had been owned by two old women before me – first Gertrude, and then Anne. Children never lived in the house, so there were no pesky crayon marks to deal with. Of course, that also meant rooms and rooms of hideous wallpaper. And a yard that hadn’t been touched since the Eisenhower Administration.
Anne (who inexplicably went by Mattie) fancied herself an artist. A diminutive retired sociology professor with a southern lilt , she created these bizarre little scenes inside and out of the house using a variety of materials. Some were funny, some charming, some risque and some were downright weird. Mattie uncluttered little corners in a house that could have qualified for a double-episode of “Hoarders” and got to work on her creations, many of which she left behind. The gardens were no different.
Pay no attention the shit behind the begonias.
The first spring was tough. I was overwhelmed and underprepared. The barn, which once been the workshop of the boatbuilder who constructed my house 125 years before, had a fire in the lean-to. It was also a haven for a ferrel cat colony, all male and all badass. That came down first and the cats moved out (leaving no forwarding address). I am really attached to my fingers and a wuss when it comes to some power tools and cleared that mess by hand. All one-third of an acre. And 87 saplings. Go me. And as each section was cleared, I planted. Much like Mattie created her works of art in the freshly cleared corners.
It’s been over 6 years since I took that walk in my yard. Each year I ask myself that same question and then I go back and look at these photos. This is what I have gotten myself into: tending a vegetable garden for an hour or two every day that feeds my family and friends. Caring for herbaceous borders that smell sweetly in the late June sunshine and provide cut flowers for 7 months of the year. And a garden that provides comfort and solace to me and allows me to de-stress from the world. I only wish I could call up Gertrude and Mattie and ask them to come for a cup of tea. I think they would be proud of the third woman in this house.
A view of the vegetable garden behind the barn on a late May afternoon in 2008.
One of several shade beds that line the rear of the property.