Gardening is life. Some people need chocolate. Some people need caffeine. I need gardening. Since moving to Ohio several months ago I haven’t been able to garden and I…am…..dying. Looking at photos of what I left behind in Utah reminds me of how much I love to build and create with dirt, rocks, and plants. This garden represents eight years of my life. Every single thing you see in these pictures (minus the established trees), I built with the help of my family and I am so proud of it. Mostly because I poured over gardening books for hours and hours, drooling over these picture-perfect sanctuaries, wondering if I could ever realize such bliss. These photos are a testament to me that it is possible to achieve. But I may have spent an unhealthy amount of time digging around in the dirt. Often my husband would have to come retrieve me from the garden as the sun started to dip behind the mountain. “You can’t even see anymore. What are you doing?” he would ask. Sometimes he would arrive home with a few surprise plants in the back of the car. He had picked them up from the nursery on the way home from work, but he would tell me to wait until morning and not plant them in the dark. He knows my heart so well.
While visiting Mt. Vernon several years ago I was introduced to the idea of oyster shell pathways. Mt. Vernon is lined with them. For Washington’s staff, oyster shell pathways were purely a matter of economy. Not wanting to waste the shells of the oysters harvested out of the river, they crushed them up and used them for a textured path. They were so pretty and white and contrasted so beautifully with the brick and dirt. I wanted them. I also picked up on another colonial gardening trend, referred to as formal gardening. It’s just a matter of dividing the garden into parcels, evenly matched, with lots of hedging (which translates into lots of pruning). This appeals to me because I love hedges, especially boxwood. I cannot emphasis enough how much I love boxwood. However, if you pay close attention to my photos you will notice that I don’t adhere too well to the “evenly matched” aspect of formal (or colonial) gardening. This reflects my eclectic personality. I am actually mixing a bit of free form into my gardening design. So, starting from scratch we dug out our pathways, lined them with bricks and oyster shell, and planted all of the hedging, both the tall and the small. What used to be a completely exposed parcel of our yard was now an enclosed sanctuary, which I loved. I could go out and tend to the lettuce and peas and no one would know I was out there. I’m a true introvert. We referred to this section of the garden as the kitchen garden, a colonial term for gardening devoted to bringing food to the table.
On the south side of the kitchen garden was our grapevine. I had big dreams of harvesting a large amount of produce for my family. At one point I had planted strawberries, raspberries, an apple tree, and a peach tree, along with the grapevine. But I learned very quickly that my garden would not produce fruit. In vain, I tried to determine the problem as it remained unfruitful every year. I soon learned that because our little town resided on the west side of the valley, right at the foot of the mountain, we had a microclimate that was quite harsh. I also happened to place my garden in one the worst locations in my yard. I often had to replant a tree or bush that experienced a hard freeze during the winter, and there wasn’t much I could do about it. So the grapevine never produced much but it sure was beautiful to look at.
I am itching to get back into gardening and begin anew, I guess. It’s a good thing to take what you’ve learned from past experiences and improve upon them when you get another chance. For that I am grateful. I will always miss that crazy, neglected pioneer home in the west. It was hard, hard work turning that place around and transforming it into something much better. There was still much left undone when we left but I’m sure the new owners are continuing our legacy. I hope that as the weather improves and the earth begins to come back to life, that you will join me in creating something extremely gratifying in the yard or garden, no matter how big, or small it is. Gardening provides such a perfect blend of creativity and physicality; digging in the dirt, installing fences and raised beds, experimenting with different colors and textures, watching your creation come to life year after year. I hope that if you’re not already enjoying this process that you will give it a whirl this coming spring. Cheers!