I enthusiastically embrace this opportunity I’ve been given to learn about hundreds of new plants and the growing season and the amazing gardens and nurseries here in the Bay Area. I’ve even already managed to start up a minimal container garden on the patio while in temporary housing. But before I start talking about that, I figured I should introduce – and say a final farewell to – my former garden in Wallkill, NY.
I do actually shed a tear when I think of my old garden, which I’m pretty sure is serving as an emotional catchall for everything I’m sad to have left behind with our move across the country. Our home and garden were very much a work in progress that was nowhere near done. We lived and grew there for nine years, during which time our two sons were born.
For nine years I looked at and thought about my garden every day; my design dreams were big, the task lists long, and the creative satisfaction complete. Looking back through the couple of thousand (!) photographs I’ve taken was fun. I laughed out loud to see just how many plants I killed. And I was happy to find that so many of the photos made me recall a moment from our lives, or a lesson learned, or how a certain plant came to be mine – where it came from and who I was with …. So I’ve decided to first share photos that spoke to me while reviewing, or have a story to tell, rather than give a tour. I’ll save the prettiest shots for a second post.
We bought our house in October of 2006, and the following spring brought a few pleasant surprises. The first was the many clumps of daffodils in the meadow at the far end of the lawn. The family that owned the house for decades before us were greenhouse growers, and I imagined they took the unsold easter pots and threw them into the field to sink or swim. I transplanted all the clumps of white into the garden over the years, never bothered to look into what variety it was. But there was an outstanding, yellow and green-streaked double that I regret not digging and stashing at a friend’s before we left. I’m pretty sure it’s ‘Van Sion’. These meadow daffs served as my spring cutting garden.
Perhaps those surprise daffodils helped shape me into such an enthusiastic bulb lover? Pictured above are some of the dozen varieties of narcissus that I added to the garden, along with a few thousand other bulbs, over the years.
The other surprise was found under the lawn that went right up to the patio door. (The walk-out basement with door to the garden was one of my favorite parts of the house from the first time I saw it.) My dad died unexpectedly earlier that spring, and I spent every day off from work gardening – and crying. One of my first garden projects was trying to clear a bed along the old front steps and foundation when thunk! – I hit something. There was an old paver patio under all that grass, and I was able to work out a lot of anguish excavating that Hidden Patio. I referred to this part of the garden as such from that point on.
This photo made me flash back
to how hard Todd worked
scraping, sanding, priming and painting the entire house. I was working weekends then at the
garden center, and he did it himself with some help from his mom.
A large elephant ear container
sits atop the old well amongst the mess.
Daylily “Sir Modred” was irresistible for it’s almost-black color and Arthurian name. One of many, many plants that I acquired at the nursery where I was working. An examination of our finances back then may have revealed I was working to support my new, completely out of control in the best of ways gardening habit. Lots of half-dead plants destined for the compost heap found happy homes in our garden as well.
The Holding Area. Wow, I’m really putting all of my ugly on display up front, eh? Every garden needs a work area. Mine also served as potting station, with potting bench built by Todd (I’ll have to share that design someday…), compost pile to the right, and plant limbo where all the many pots of plants that I divided, swapped for, rescued, bought for no reason, or couldn’t resist at auction came to wait their turn.
The Road Border. My first experiment with a large-scale mixed planting bed. This border was always getting tweaked, both by my own hand and nature’s choice a la self-sowers and die off. Each new season brought a new show. Privacy was achieved quickly by a few Miscanthus ‘Silberfeder’ and ‘Variegatus’ as well as Viburnum plicatum “Summer Snowflake.” The blue spruce was a live Christmas tree rescued from work, and a reference to the tree that grew in my front yard as a kid on Long Island.
This planting area was completed in stages because, as you can see, I needed to make really big beds. Not such a feat when you hire a landscape crew with machines and lots of muscle, but I was one gal with a wheelbarrow and hand tools and I wanted lots of big gardens fast. I learned quickly how fantastic the smothering method works, and you can read Margaret Roach’s explanation of this technique here. Garden smarter, not harder! Above you can see a big push to link two existing beds, wrapping around the large ash tree and creating a continuous garden space between our property and the road.
The Road Border in early spring looking back towards the house.
My former garden was a total Hellebore farm. Early on I ordered one three-pack of Helleborus x hybridus from Bluestone Perennials (50% off!) and every year there were tons of babies. My hellebore crop was so plentiful that I was never tempted by any of the fancier names varieties. They thrived under many of the shade trees, in front of the deck, next to the driveway…there were days I wondered “Is it too much Hellebore?”
HA! We all know there’s no such thing.
Another important thing I learned with this garden is that hardscape must come first and don’t skimp, skip or be lazy about this part – the backbone of every good garden. Often the most successful projects or improvements made in our garden had nothing to do with planting. Above is a sliver of space that existed between a concrete driveway and a low rock wall. When I finally got around to digging it out, leveling it, and filling it with leftover driveway gravel (Hey hon, remember that time I ordered twice as many tons of gravel than we needed?) it became a stage for some of my potted plant collection and one of my favorite garden spaces. This is the kind of small moments I love most in a garden.
The Well Garden was another of my favorites areas. Nestled in a corner outside both a kitchen and living room window was an old well cap. Already covered with moss and lichen, it begged to become something more, and planning a new container planting each year was something I looked forward to.
This Lycoris photo always makes me laugh. When I started blogging about my garden, I was shocked to see how many hits a post about this plant received. And then I realized folks finding their way to my site were probably disappointed to see the “Naked Ladies” I was speaking of. I was on the local garden tour once and I dug up Lycoris bulbs to share, happy to pass along this plant that I’d inherited with the property.
Change is one of the most powerful, but not most often talked about, elements of a garden – and it’s part of what I love the most. In this photo it’s not the plants or the garden that are on the cusp of transformation; me, weeding on my hands and knees an hour before heading to the hospital to have our first son, Henry.
Photographing the garden was an important tool for so many reasons. I have gone back and looked at these images countless times through the years for reference and planning; there is absolutely no way I could remember a fraction of the “data” captured by the camera each season.You see things you might not notice otherwise and having a camera in your hands means you’re not weeding, watering or pinching – providing time spent in the garden slowly observing and appreciating.
And because I took all those photographs, I can visit my former garden any time I like.
I can feel my tired back and legs working to make it up this hill to go inside at the end of a marathon work session in the garden – there were so many! I don’t recall ever being relieved or happy I was done for the day, I’d have stayed (out there) forever if I could have.
Care to see a little bit more? Photo favorites from this garden in my next post – coming soon!