I grew up in a family where women knew how to garden. I remember childhood trips to the plant nursery where I gazed upon rows of vibrant petunias, pansies and my favorite, roses. Sometimes my mom would let me pick out a batch of flowers, and I would always reach for the colorful annuals, not built for longevity. My mom spent time in the yard — not obsessively — but enough time to grow tomato plants and peppers, create an eco-friendly compost pile and a naturally well-maintained yard. She always told me that every house we lived in she ultimately chose for the backyard. Looking back I appreciated the size of each backyard, and how most backed up to a park or woods, as opposed to a road or another house. I dreamed of having my own rose or English style garden someday.
Like many 20-somethings do, I lived in apartments or duplexes during my salad days and did not have to worry about yard maintenance. Thank goodness, as I did not know how to use a lawn mower, as my parents were afraid I would injure myself in the process (they have me pegged as a bit of a “space cadet.”) Thus I was grateful for included lawn service, not much green space and a patio to place an occasional potted plant, which I hoped to remember to water. My now husband, on the other hand, started his own successful lawn business as a preteen and could competently handle a lawn mower and weed eater.
We purchased our first house together (the first one for either of us) during the summer of 2013. The house was new construction, so the builders had included some standard bushes, small trees and grass. We were content with the arrangement, although I daydreamed from time to time of a pergola or eventual garden, perhaps during retirement when I had time to tend to yet another life form. The sole addition to our new house was a potted plant that my mother (of course) bought with my daughter during one of her visits. This plant is truly a survivor, as we don’t cover it up on cold nights, and it relies on the rain run-off from the roof to hydrate. The bright annuals they purchased together have since perished.
We were content with our simple lawn until we brought our rescued German Shepherd home. I now credit our dog Faith with the improvements to our yard. See, Faith knew that our yard could be so much better. And she also knew we needed more responsibilities on our plates beyond our three small children and now two rescue dogs. So she proceeded with her home improvement plan of completely demolishing the backyard. Areas of lush green grass soon turned into muddy trenches and black sludge under her genius scheme. Now simply reentering the house from the backyard required an extensive wiping down of paws or limbs with towels, or clothes were shed on the porch for mud-caked bodies to be sprayed down by a cold hose. (Luckily my two-year-old enjoys this.)
My husband and I became fed up with looking at mud pits and seeing dirt everywhere. So we did what any hard-working Americans would do — did we embark on a journey to work together side-by-side to plant flowers, embed stepping stones, mulch and fertilize under the glaze of the hot sun, beaming with pride at our hard work? Of course not. We immediately began googling landscapers to find one that could do the most with the least money.
Fast forward a few months, and our backyard oasis is nearly complete. We had to take the pergola off the table pretty quickly, as that addition was a budget buster for us. Instead, our enterprising landscaper created a kids’ play area anchored by pea gravel and surrounded by all sorts of bushes, small trees, and flowers — a secret garden if you will. I now have my always dreamed of magnolia tree, which cements my status as a southerner. The piece de resistance will be a wooden trellis arching over our back gate, filled with climbing vines and fragrant blooms. We now have two butterfly gardens, and I have already seen butterflies, bees and birds flitting about and enjoying our plant paradise.
Our toddler son eagerly helps me water the plants, as now we have to water twice a day until they get established. It’s refreshing to see a young child excited about something other than his Daddy’s iPad or the newest Minions app. I am hoping we can eventually create our own compost pile or grow some vegetable plants to teach the kids about a natural way of recycling and self-reliance.
Last night I was outside attempting to revive some plants that had wilted under the heat of the day, trying to beat the sun from setting on me, when I looked up at the horizon and saw the most vibrant orange-pink sunset. Admiring the sky and the muted noises of dusk, I understood the contentment of the gardener and the oneness felt with nature as one tends her garden.
Now my peripatetic children tell me they never want to move from this house. I guess once you put down some real roots, it is hard to uproot yourself and start over with a blank green space. When we do move someday, I hope to come back years later to see how that magnolia tree has grown up and outward and how the secret garden has enclosed the kids’ play area into a magical hideout. Until that day comes, we will continue to enjoy and cultivate our own little piece of paradise.