by Jane Solomon
As soon as the kids finish school, we pack up the car and head north to Vermont, returning with just enough time to do the laundry, buy supplies and scoot them out the door to begin a new year. Coming home after such a long absence is always hard and I’m never sure what to do with myself. So after a day of rest, I rely on muscle memory and do the most familiar thing, which is to put on my boots and gloves and head out to the garden.
If you haven’t seen our garden, let me tell you a bit about it. My husband Daniel and I moved into his childhood home on Albemarle Street 15 years ago, after his mother died and just before our twin boys were born. His grandparents had lived in the house next door and after they died in the 1980s, rather than sell the house, my mother-in-law kept it and embarked on an epic landscaping project on this very large double lot.
She hired the newly transplanted British landscape designer Jane MacLeish and together they transformed what had been vast expanses of lawn, punctuated by tall canopy trees, into a lush and multi-layered oasis.
It was completed almost 30 years ago and it shocks me to realize that I’ve been its steward for nearly half that time.
I was a novice gardener when I arrived, and mustering the nerve to do anything at all was a challenge in itself. I cringe with embarrassment when I think of some of my early ideas and efforts. For well over a year I discovered new plants with every trip into the garden and often had no idea what they were. The learning curve was steep, but bit by bit I did learn and became increasingly bold with the tasks I undertook.
Meanwhile the garden continually evolved, making its own demands. We’ve lost many of our old trees, mostly to hurricanes.
Oaks and poplars have tipped over, crushing most of what lay beneath their broad canopies, while their upturned trunks lifted the surrounding shrubs ten feet in the air.
Gardening is dealing with constant change.
Once-shaded areas become sunny when you lose a tree while formerly sunny areas become shaded as plants mature. Things die mysteriously and seemingly overnight. Others die slowly from known causes but there’s nothing to be done. One year the soil is so wet that roots are rotting and the next the clay is so hard and dry you can chip it out with a chisel. I’m not an expert in any particular aspect of gardening, but I’ve got years of practical experience born of necessity and my own enthusiasm for hard physical labor and making things grow.
Having made my way reflexively into the garden this morning, where did I end up and what will I write about first? My little herb and vegetable garden looked pretty sad and uninspiring. There was so much damage from white flies. (Note to self: no more cucumbers – they are a magnet for white flies.)
So after a bit of weeding I made my way down to the compost piles, which spent the summer under tarps to finish cooking. That was much more satisfying. Bins of beautiful black finished compost.
Yes, I think I’ll start with a piece on compost. I’m looking forward to writing it and I hope you’ll find something of interest.