There we stood, looking out the windows of a house that had everything our current house did not – fireplace, bathrooms on each floor, a deck with a view. Most of all, it had a private yard. Our house on Wood Street was a sweet bungalow with a back yard serving as an expressway for the neighbor kids. With no alley or fences, we never knew which tyke would come barreling across the patio, even while the grill was blazing.
The split level was the first house we looked at, and the last. With my foot in an orthopedic boot, I wasn’t too keen on the stairs, but I was a goner the moment I entered the sunroom. I whispered to my husband, “Come here!” to look out the bay windows. The view knocked my socks off. On a street with mostly grassy yards, this one resembled a slice of the Arboretum, walled off on the east and west by artfully planted firs, arbor vitae, lilacs, and bushes I could not yet name, and on the north by genuine woods.
So much for bargaining, for making the sellers worry we didn’t want it and maybe lower their asking price. Instead, I imagined the next lookers stopping by and snapping it up. So we made our offer in the driveway, before the Realtor could get away. “We want it,” we said. Or I did, anyway. Bob had already asked offhandedly, “You can take care of the yard?” and I, ignoring my awkward foot, had replied, “Sure!”
We moved in mid-summer, dragging visitors to the back yard, or to stand in the sunroom, taking in the view. I felt more wonder than pride; we hadn’t created this Eden. Every square inch was crammed with vegetation, mainly hundreds – thousands? – of hostas thriving in shade cast by the trees and bushes. In fact I found it annoying that there was no place for me to plant something new. I put in three peonies, finding bulbs in every hole I tried. They did okay, as did the rhubarb and a few alliums. But if I wanted vegetables, I had to use pots on the deck, moving them around to catch enough sun to bloom.
It wasn’t until the following year that we understood just how “carefree” this yard was. Weeds I’d never heard of popped up, towering over the bushes if I left them long enough. I downloaded a plant ID app to learn their names, including wildflowers I had pulled unwittingly. I felt so bad when the pernicious weed I yanked by the handfuls turned out to be Yellow Archangel. But it grew back. Of course it did.
My mom had modest plantings, mostly tomatoes and green peppers, a few marigolds. Her mom loved to go into the woods, bringing back specimens like a perfect Lady’s Slipper to tuck into her generous garden. In Colorado, my first husband and I cultivated an ambitious plot of veggies, berries, even our own popcorn. The raspberries sent out zealous shoots and took over, while a sudden hailstorm devastated the strawberries. I let the carrots go too long and have pictures of my daughter, age two, with a orange monster nearly as big as herself.
When I moved with Allison and her brother to a tall house on University Avenue, we had a decent yard, already scattered with perennials by the previous owners. It’s a lovely thing to move in the fall and then discover, one by one, the surprises waiting underground – bleeding hearts! Siberian irises! Plate-size peonies! As they grew – the kids, I mean – I recruited them to weed, and to this day Allison and I talk about the summer we battled The Vine (now identified, via my app, as an invasive Virginia creeper) that had taken over all the bushes in the back. The day we pulled the last of it down was glorious.
Now I know how much work it takes. Now I know, after talking with a neighbor, that the father of the woman from who we bought our house was the genius who had created this park in the big back yard, and the one who kept it in order. Even after he and his wife gave the house to their daughter and her family, he continued to toil every weekend on his creation. It was his passion, his calling, and he must have found his own Zen in the labor. I have a feeling his search for bliss also involved some weed preventer and Round-up, but I am not the herbicide police.
So, do we move? Occupy a nice condo where someone else mows and rakes, and I can poke a few petunias into the ground? I don’t find solace in the Sysiphean task of a chore than leaves me sore and bitten and covered in burrs. Or do I make peace with this demanding and gorgeous place, maybe hiring someone to keep the pathways clear and lop the dead branches? Jane and Vera love this secret garden, and in just a few years they should be old enough to help Grandma weed. Those are the kids I definitely want to turn this place into an expressway to joy. After all, their mother took photos of them out there the first summer they visited, two pixies in pink standing in the grotto, and declared their graduation photos would be taken there. That’s thirteen years off! If you want a task with long-term job security, let me know.