My other thing, besides books…

Our new home – with a little bit of sad grass.

I’ve always loved landscaping. To me, it’s an extension of house design, and visual art. My favourite style is the quintessential English Garden (see below), and I always wanted to build one.

Not my house…a girl can dream, though.

You know what I mean – no pesky grass. Just gravel or stone walkways, with plenty of overhanging trees and climbing vines tumbling over rocks and fences, rose bushes and hollyhocks and lots and lots of creeping flowers mixed with vegetables, all squashed up in organized chaos.

We planted a cherry tree two years ago. I think this was the first blossom.

A place to dream or write or visit with friends. A place to breathe deep, listen to the birds, watch the bees flit over the roses, and the hummingbirds sip from the sweet pea.

Last year was glorious in the front flower bed.

I’ve never had the time, the money, or the right property to achieve it, but now, I’m the closest I’ve ever been. My family is now convinced that I am only capable of speaking about two things: writing and gardening.

It’s okay, right? If it’s an addiction, I think it’s a healthy one.

We bought our very first home in a small village when we were in our twenties, and we lived there for nine years. It was an old brick side by side, built in the fifties, so it had plenty of history in the small front yard. Big trees, old plants. Stuff to move, cut down, or prune. I built a small flower bed, but that’s it.

Our second home was in Moncton, in the Old West End, of a similar age. We lived there for 16 years. The lawn was deeply shaded by fences, tall oaks and maples, and because of the mature evergreens, the earth was acidic. Lots of moss. I tried very hard to grow colourful flowers, but there just wasn’t enough sunlight.

Now we are living in our third home, which we purchased two and a half years ago, directly from the builder. This large bungalow was the last house to be built on our street in a young development, as young as the families who live here.

No mature trees. No privacy. Few fences, or plants. Perfect lawns, mind you, but no flowers. I think they’re all too busy to care about it.

The first spring, I painted the door red. (I don’t know why, but I have a thing for red doors–even when it might not be the perfect match with taupe siding.)

Each house has represented a season in our lives. Our first house in Dorchester saw us bringing three children into the world. We brought them to Moncton, and raised them all in our second home.

Now in our third home, the kids are grown and gone. We have only one boy left in university, who comes home in the summer.  Other than that, it’s just my husband and I, with my mom.

Other than looking after my mom’s needs, there are few demands on our time, unlike our neighbours. Our street is full of teens practicing their basketball layups at the end of their driveways, and the younger kids play soccer, and give us curious looks.

For the first time, we’re the oldies in the neighbourhood. It’s weird, but all you can do is embrace it.

I’m embracing it by planning my English Garden. Every year, we do a little more. It can be frustrating working with clay soil, because not all plants can survive in it. But the ones who can really thrive.

I planted three of these white rosebushes, called Double de Coubert, from Cornhill Nursery two years ago. And oh, the scent!

We moved in winter, which hid the state of the yard, but by spring the receding snow revealed a big mess. Our 0.1 acres was a pile of clay – and when I say clay, I mean you could make pottery with it– that had not yet been graded or seeded with grass. The whole backyard, we could now see, was a steep slope. What can you do with a hill?

The builder sent guys over to grade, spread topsoil and seed, as well as pave the driveway. (The topsoil turned out to be full of spiky weeds, and so when it sprang up together with the grass, we spent the better part of two weeks pulling them all out, and reseeding –thanks for nothing, builder. The pavers did a pretty good job, though.)

That very first April, we started by putting in a hedge of Cheyenne Privet. After two and a half years, it’s taking forever to grow. I was told it can grow one and a half to two feet per season.

We stuffed about 40 Cheyenne Privet hedge plants into our car.

That person lied.

More than two years later, the privet hedge is not growing fast enough to suit me—I can still see what my neighbours are doing, and worse, they can see me.

You’d be surprised how many plants and trees and bushes it takes to fill a tiny, 0.1-acre property. But there’s such satisfaction in planting things and seeing them grow.

I love the colour of this honeysuckle. It’s dark pink with some orange.

Our immediate neighbours come from Iran, and they told me that living here has meant having to manage a lawn for the first time. They’d never seen grass before– who needs to mow in the desert? And I’m quite sure they wonder why I obsessively spend every evening digging in the garden –but just wait! Wait until the whole thing comes together.

What poetry will be written there!

In the meantime, I am learning to appreciate the process, and what things look like at every stage. I think it’s similar to the process of writing. The old quote attributed to Dorothy Parker is, “I hate writing, I love having written.”

My calla lilies are part of what I call my “friendship garden” – The flowers given to me by my friends, including the euonymus, below . As you can see below, it was six feet wide when we transplanted it a year ago. I cut it back and prayed over it. These days, it’s perky and bright yellow. (Thanks, Tania and Karen.)

This blank slate of a yard is intimidating. So is a blank page. But, oh, the possibilities.

*Henry Van Dyke

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