My garden taunted me all winter long. And that’s a long time in Maine. For several weeks, the snow was so high that the small wrought-iron fences that give the garden some sort of organization and form were completely invisible. I couldn’t wait until spring to dig my hands into the soil again.
My husband always corrects me when I call the area behind our house a “garden.” “It’s a yard,” he says, and I think he is wrong. A yard, to me, is some sort of vast expanse of grass, maybe some bushes and hedges. Perhaps a flower bed. I am sure that there is a dictionary definition that would clear all this up, but frankly, I am just not that interested in the terminology.
What we have is a garden.
What we have is an unruly, wild, mossy wildlife area. In the fall when we moved in, the entire garden was shaded from a couple of huge trees and a forest of smaller ones. There are mysterious and as of yet unidentified bushes of various sizes growing out of a stone wall that keeps our house from falling into the brook. Because we also have a brook. The lower half of the garden is a favorite of the neighborhood kids. There is some sort of a bamboo growing along the brook that’s great for forts, paintball fights and for hunting down frogs and helicopter-sized dragonflies.
I have to admit that I had some romantic notions about gardening when we bought the house. The shade, the seclusion made it all seem very cozy. As I was getting acquainted with the garden I found all sorts of cute surprises – a garden gnome, a bird feeder, a couple of stepping stones, little frog statuettes and a stone turtle. Lovely, right?
The one freaky discovery I had was a cross nailed to one of the trees. It’s a small, ornate cross and it’s positioned where a larger limb must have been cut off. Maybe lighting hit there? Who knows? And even though I am not a cross-type girl, you just don’t remove something like that. What if that’s the only little piece of protection that’s keeping our house intact?
But back to the garden… So, those romantic notions of gardening quickly disappeared as the leaves fell from the trees. All 97 million of them. Pretty soon, gardening became nothing more than leaf management. Sure, they were yellow, and red, and rusty, and orange, and crunchy, and had that amazing fall-leaf smell. But I was knee-deep in them, with no end in sight.
The first snow was a relief. By spring, all of those leaves on the ground will become good, nutritious compost for the soil, I thought.
Not so. Spring leaf management is similar to fall leaf management. The only difference is that there are juicy, fat worms between the layers of wet leaves, along with more unidentified sprigs of life – bright green, cheery, hopeful.
While in the fall I was happy to let things take their natural course in the garden, the spring is making me nervous. I am responsible for this living, breathing piece of land behind my house. I should know what it needs, right? Trimming? More water? Less water? Sun? Shade? Should I just let it be?
Landscapers have come and gone, shaking their heads, making me feel like a bad parent for not forking over large sums of money and also for not doing it all on my own. I feel like the working mother of a piece of land.
I am looking out at the garden as I write this. The sloping terrace with its hidden steps, the curve of the brook, the lone pine tree – I still find it all very soothing. So I go outside from time to time to check things out. I rake some leaves. Pick up a couple of broken branches. Sweep the dirt off the stepping stones. I’ll buy some pansies this week and fill the planters on the garage and in our windows.
Slowly, leaf by leaf, the garden and I come to an understanding. I do the best I can. She will keep the leaves on the trees as long as possible next fall. I will hire the weird Italian man with the scar to do a bit of cleanup. She will make sure that the hibiscus bush produces golf ball-sized blooms.
It will all work out.