Archive for November, 2017

October: Digging in

Planted: A Year of Gardening
3. October 2016

The first thing I did, literally before moving in, was to plant a garden, specifically an herb garden right outside the back door. My friend Liz and I stacked fence posts to create a raised bed. The posts were memories of the old place, manifesting as leftover wood, from a bed that I dismantled. I heeled in plants that I also liberated, by contract, from that house. Then I cataloged and journaled everything in an online garden diary, as well as a paper journal. It’s why I can write this now.

Oct3-Herb garden

Getting out the graph paper, I planned out four spaces—the alley side yard, a patio, the gangway, and the street side yard—and gave them names: The Farm, The Breezeway, The Gangway and Savory, The Botanic. Since it was already October, too late to plant out in spaces I had not yet defined, the 50 or so plant immigrants from the old place got staged in the new raised bed, in the nook created by the breezeway, and along the neighbor’s fence in the gangway, waiting for the spring.

The space is fairly considerable in context of the surrounding houses, but not exactly Downton Abbey. But this garden had a time scale I hadn’t been subjected to when I put in the last garden, over 25 years. I didn’t have, or want, 25 years to put in this garden. I needed my garden to be done. Leaving a mature garden is wrenching; I needed to compress that time scale to a few months, for my sanity. It required a hard look at resources—horticultural, time, money, effort.

The late fall season limited what I could do before the cold really set in. I started scavenging. I got free raised beds for the Farm from a community garden that was closing, and someone else gave me raspberries. I filled the raised beds with fallen leaves, donated by everyone in the neighborhood; they were thrilled not to have to pay the city to haul them away. Oct3-tree removalI trimmed or took down never-tended trees in the Farm, and had them chipped on site as mulch. I moved 85 retaining blocks that had been part of a very stupid…what—I don’t even know what to call it, a 2-block high “lip” for a real estate agent’s particularly dreadful idea of a privacy planting (a row of arbor vitae in front of the living room windows)—and created a 7-block-high wall to set off a private patio. I laid out that patio with pavers and blocks taken from the old place. My friend the landscape architect was on board and starting bringing scavenged plants from job sites as soon as the ground was soft.

And the memories? They’ve detached themselves from the old house and now live here, where there are no memories yet.

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October: Planning

Planted: A Year of Gardening
2. October 2016

Here in a new house, the strangers behind me and the strangers to come frightened me, torn between wanting to remember and wanting to forget. The old memories seemed extraneous, hurtful, a little dangerous. The new ones didn’t exist. The furniture created a continuity of stuff, but nothing else had any relation to me. The idea of creating new memories for this place seemed a terrifying obligation.

Designing a garden from scratch is like writing a business plan. You need a vision, a Garden map area 4-7mission, a description, funding requirements, implementation strategies, and projected outcomes, both for short and long term. You have to analyze the resources available to you, decide what you can do yourself and what you need to outsource, and create a timeline, again for both short and long term.

There are as many approaches to garden plans as there are gardeners. Some do it on instinct and plop plants in wherever the spirit moves them. This works only if you have a good understanding of what that plant and the ones around it will look like in 5 years. You can use graph paper to plot this out—drawing in the eventual spread of the plant to decide where its center should be. You can place plants in pots and live with them for a while as you move them around like furniture.

I put in my old garden without plan, sometimes drawing them after the fact. In genera things went in as they came into my possession, and were moved by whim as much as by design or memory. My own parents had a yard, but never a garden. I cannot remember planting a single thing as a child (in fact, no one we knew had even a flower garden, let alone a vegetable bed.) As I taught myself the skill, I created endless designs, many of which I still have; they’re rather beautiful as works of art. And planning gardens is what gardeners do in the winter. Even with my mature garden at the old house the cold months would see me doing endless redesigns, figuring out vegetable beds and deciding what plants to divide come spring. Some of them even got executed.

Woodland plan

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October: Memory

Planted: A Year of Gardening
1. October 2016

We balance on a fulcrum between the strangers from our past and those in our future. We’ve cut our past strangers from whole cloth, as much inventing as remembering the child who grew up, the parent who died, the grade school friend whose picture you keep, but whose name you’ve forgotten. The strangers of the future are aliens-remote, unfathomable, not of this world.

Several years ago, I narrated my mother’s photo album for my children, so that they would know their connection to the strangers in the album. It was an exercise in remembering, because I believed I’d forgotten my childhood. Without a mother to hold those memories, I had let them slip away, so that they were indistinguishable from the photographs of them. You cannot remember to remember. By the time you realize you wanted to remember that thing, it’s gone. Your brain will create the memory, and hold it, or it won’t.

I guess that’s what photo albums are for.

Road to DexterHouse

Me and my brother, ages 3 and 4, near our home outside Ann Arbor, about 1959.

N at Dexter House

My daughter, at the same bend in the road 40 years later.

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In October 2016, I left the garden that readers of this blog are familiar with. I grew there–plants and children–for 30 years.

And then I had to give it up.

I’ve spent the past year chronicling the new garden, a “chapter” a month. I decided to post here, for old time’s sake, two posts a month, from December to April, starting with the first night alone in the new house, sitting in an empty living room surrounded by boxes.

It’s a strange, affectless moment, that first evening in a new house. The past is a closed door, and the future one with new locks and an unfamiliar key. All the boxes are labeled and placed in their appropriate rooms, and the checklist for how-to-move-out has become a checklist for how-to-move-in. Everything looks strange—the furniture shrugs itself uncomfortably into new spaces, there are too many pots for the kitchen cabinets, and there’s a street light right outside the bedroom window.

As if you were going to be able to sleep, anyway.

0- Intro

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