It’s February and I’m looking for buds.
The purple blanket of creeping crocuses will explode on our neighbor’s lawn soon and it’s countdown mode for spring. Three weeks until the Philadelphia Flower Show, that nose-heavy, noisy meander through nature’s blessing, and I can’t wait. An opportunity to see what new plants will be popular. Time to consider if your property could, in any possible way, resemble a chateau in Paris.
I’m a middling gardener. Before my husband and I bought our current home, I wanted nothing to do with dirt. No back-twisting weed yanking. No entrenched dirt in my palms’ otherwise optimistic lifelines. No primping of colorful displays determined to self-extinguish despite my best efforts.
Then we accidently bought a house.
I say ‘accidently’ because after a year of looking at houses to merge our two families, we spent fifteen minutes perusing this one in the dark. In February. Stepping out on the back terrace, we briefly glanced at the pool, noted its disrepair, and went back to measuring the master bedroom. Actually, the entire house was a disaster— I mean, run for the hills disaster—but we saw its potential and a functional floor plan for four children and shook hands on the deal.
It wasn’t until we returned in the light of the following day that we saw that the property did not stop at the pool line, but continued into nearly a quarter acre of something that closely resembled the opening scenes of The Secret Garden. The pool area was lined with a double row of rusted chain link fence and dotted with hideously overgrown arborvitae. They reminded me of Easter Island heads and I felt similarly warned at the folly we were about to undertake. Further down a set of rickety flagstone steps were masses of yew bushes with gnarled trunks the width of my thigh. Then a sloped area filled with invasive Mexican bamboo and debris from the 1929 construction of the house. Beyond that was something that may have once been considered a good spot for a lawn.
Well,” I said, with a weak smile, “I guess I’ll have to learn to garden.”
I started as every virgin gardener does. I went to the nursery and bought plants. That I had not an inch of cleared, amended, or planned space didn’t stop me from picking out the prettiest, most beckoning, already blooming specimens and forcing them willy-nilly into a square of dirt. You know how that ended.
I spent the next year in the removal business until my fingers were an inch shorter and my back felt like it was attached by metal spikes. Finally I cleared a small area, returned to the garden center, and replanted. So proud was I that I showed the next random visitor my work. There was my single coneflower stuck next to a lonely peony fronted by a blood red weigela. “That’s not a garden,” he said. It’s a science experiment.”
For twenty years I worked that patch of land, read widely, planned for the upcoming season, buried the dead, and kept the local nursery in business. Successes eventually grew. About ten years in, we took down a stockade fence and replaced it with a wrought iron one. Neighbors stop regularly to admire our backyard.
I’m over the garden now. Last year, we hired professionals to redo some areas I was never satisfied with but lacked the motivation to fix. I enjoy it now as my neighbors do, admiring the latest blooms, breathing in sweet scents, comparing how much lusher it is than before. I still visit the Flower Show every year, mostly to marvel at the creativity born from the ordinary.
So now that I’ve created this beautiful outdoor space, how do I spend exquisite spring days? Inside a flowerless office creating imaginary places in my head. Life’s funny, isn’t it?