Freeing the weeds also freed his mind
Photos by Rana Faure
For Ken Eisold, the garden was remedial. In fact, the psychoanalyst would argue that all gardening is an exercise in empowerment. His Ridgefield landscape needed all the help it could receive when he began battling the prevailing poison ivy, grape vines, and all things aggressive in residence 30 years ago. In return, he found strength, peace, and beauty. Given all the blood, sweat, and tears lavished on his 12-plus acres, it might seem that his land reaped the lion’s share of rewards from their relationship. To the contrary, Dr. Eisold now feels strongly and vocally that he is the blissful benefactor from the exchange.
Forging a garden was not first on the agenda for Eisold. Although Ken and his wife Barbara spent weekends and summers at the house they built on land inherited from Barbara’s family 55 years ago, they did not extend their Fairfield County experience outwards at first. “Basically, it was impenetrable,” Eisold sums up the imposing adversary of tangled vines in the hinterlands beyond the immediate footprint of the house.
Thirty years ago, while successfully switching gears from a teacher to a clinical psychoanalyst, a newly emboldened Dr. Eisold decided to undertake what he assumed would be a one-sided exercise in muscling the landscape into fruition. As it turned out, he found a bounty of well-being while gaining ground.
Phrases like “It was an interlude of inner discovery,” “Thanks to the activity, I could retreat into myself,” and “Working with the land was liberating” just roll off the psychoanalyst’s tongue.
Clearly, Eisold was having the time of his life while proceeding foot by foot to eradicate all manner of snarling foes from the former farm. And his observations are obviously not merely in hindsight, because the intrepid pioneer kept the cleanup right on going until he reached the stream that gurgles parallel to the house.
In fact, he ultimately installed bridges to include the far shore in the composition. But the cleanup was just the beginning, because once he made that handshake with the land, he intensified it into an embrace. At some point, he realized that a lush, wide, and floriferous perennial border running the length of the stream would be the most fitting “thank you” to his therapeutic land.
The long, sumptuous border that resulted from the win/win relationship is nothing short of Impressionistic art. In direct contradiction to the typical foundation planting hugging a house, a victorious Eisold focused his efforts on the farthest reaches of his cleanup accomplishment. Of course, the trees that he had freed from the strangle of vines were left intact.
In fact, the newly rescued trees—including a series of gnarled apples (Eisold guesses that the property once boasted a full-fledged orchard) were lovingly pruned back into shape as part of the project. But he also installed a curvaceous border along the stream.
His installation required some remedial action of sand and fresh topsoil underfoot due to drainage issues when water found its way down to the bottomland and settled toward thestream. To make doubly sure the perennials don’t get swamped, a smart pebble gully (“Not perceptible from a distance”) along the slate tile edging sends the water flowing away from the perennials.
In keeping with the close relationship he had established with the land, Eisold chose the plants personally. His criterion for selection? Strictly from the heart. He frequented local nurseries, picked up whatever appealed, and adopted it into the landscape.
He admitted that an affinity for flowers was the starting point. “I began with the naïve idea that the key element would be blossoms.”
And flowers are still part of the dialogue. “I’m crazy about peonies,” he admits, “they are an expression of my repressed flamboyant nature.”
But then he also began to see the harmony of form, shape, and texture in foliage. The therapist finds the “jungly quality” of large leaves to be particularly alluring. And he realized that interrelationships are not just a human state of affairs. “Plants set each other off. Their differences make the scene come alive.”
In the final analysis, the garden has grown into an incredibly engaging pageant that makes your heart race and yet soothes your soul. The garden now weaves back and forth in a waltz with the brook, offering frequent benches, a rustic gazebo, vine-bowered pergolas (featuring good vines rather than invasives), and all manner of seduction.
Rather than heart-racing, it’s totally tranquil. It is the epitome of calm andpeaceful. Ken Eisold has learned a lot about life and how to heal. At his Ridgefield home, he practices it with nature.