The making of a gardener
Photos by Jobe Family and Sally Green
I visited my old garden last year. I started planting it in 1993 when we moved to our little house in the woods. It sat on a bit over two acres in Pound Ridge, with lots of old trees and shade. A creek trickled and emptied into a pond across the road. It was paradise for a fledgling gardener. I knew nothing about grading and drainage, let alone garden structure, zones, or deer-resistant plants. I didn’t have horticultural knowledge yet, but I knew what I liked. I loved the way I felt at the end of a long day of digging. So began my life as a gardener.
I built our garden slowly—unsure of myself in my garden laboratory, experimenting with obscure plants and planting thousands of daffodil bulbs, calling our little paradise “Daffodil Hill.” I visited the New York Botanical Garden in springtime, embarrassed to learn that Daffodil Hill was the name of their incomparable daffodil garden. My garden was hardly worthy of the same name. I kept it anyway.
A rocky hill behind our house beckoned to become a waterfall. We edited natural boulders, added rocks here and there, and made a waterfall that trickled into a pint-sized puddle as if Mother Nature planned it herself. The sound of water was the music this space was waiting for. We accumulated rusty relics and knitted them into the garden.
We found a weathered birdbath which we used to baptize our daughters at the edge of the woods. We hung an old garden gate to nowhere, collected birdhouses, watering cans, and pots of varying shapes and sizes. But there was something really special about this place by itself. I once held out my finger to a yellow finch as he hopped up my arm before perching on my head, where he sat for a good six minutes. One snowfall we watched nervously as two young bucks rammed antlers outside our bedroom window.
At the end of a long day commuting from the city, my husband never knew what he might find when he walked through the gate. Bulldozers? Very pregnant wife digging up the patio? Kids throwing snowballs in July (ammo frozen in our fridge from the previous February snowfall)? Indeed. I planted trees with my babies strapped to my back. I sweated, cursed, laughed, and cried in my garden.
I talked to my late father in that garden, wondering if he could see me raising my children. My own Daffodil Hill became my church, the tall oaks surrounding it were the steeple.
After our first daughter was born, I went back to school to pursue a new career in landscape design. Years passed, our family grew, our little house burst at the seams. We found a larger home just a mile away, not ready to leave the woods. That garden was hard for me to leave behind. There were important memories there. Lots of history. I got down to business in my new garden, picking up from where I’d left off on Daffodil Hill.
A decade later, working as a landscape designer, I found myself in the garden of my pal, Sally. She was looking for a tree for her own garden. I offered options, and remembered a paperbark maple I’d planted at Daffodil Hill 18 years earlier. I suggested we drive over and look at it since we were close by. I hadn’t seen the garden in ten years. It wasn’t until I walked through the arbor that the spirit of this place took my breath away.
The sedum and rudbeckias were thick and robust. The hellebores and bleeding heart matured and multiplied. The to-die-for, slow-growing European ginger was an impressive carpet of deep-emerald green under a red-twig dogwood. The hillside was a lush and harmonious medley of shrubs and perennials to rival the gardens I paid to visit over the years. And that paperbark maple was now tall and healthy even after weathering damage in Hurricane Sandy. Best of all, the current owners took pride in this place.
A tidal wave of memories flooded my head. I felt as if I were walking into my own history book, each turning page touching my heart. I walked through the garden slowly, soaking up every memory paired with this special place. Much to my delight, things that I had left in the garden “just because” were still there. Curly vines covered the old wire arbor. The rusty gate still hung at the bedroom patio. Timeworn, paint-chipped reminders beckoned me. Moss filled the gaps between the stones, marking time.
This garden, like a child of mine, was now all grown up and more beautiful than I could have imagined. It made me weak in the knees, and Sally knew it. She grabbed my phone and snapped a photo of me. When I look at it, I am taken back to that day, in that garden. The cur- rent owners were making their own memories there now. It is, after all, a very special place, no matter who lives there. That’s when I humbly realized that the gardens I’ve had a hand in creating for over 20 years for myself and clients hold so much promise. New memories lie in wait to be planted, long after I am gone.
THE GLORY OF GARDENING:
HANDS IN THE DIRT,
HEAD IN THE SUN,
HEART WITH NATURE.
TO NURTURE A GARDEN IS TO FEED NOT JUST THE BODY,
BUT THE SOUL.
—Alfred Austin, 1894