Thursday, March 22, 2007

Family Trees

All of my childhood, my maternal Grandparents lived beside my Dad. My parents divorced when I was young and to say my mother is erratic is an understatement. It was almost unheard of for a father to get custody of his kids no matter how unstable the mother may be (although I understand that the rules are changing a little). My Dad is so traditional, I'm not sure he even knew men could be single parents despite his obvious desire to be close to his children. So, home to me was always my Grandparents' home and it was also always near my Dad. Between both families, we had about 7 acres of land to roam around. Our 'yard' was covered with a hodgepodge of pasture, fruit trees, an acre of victory garden, and every ornamental plant known to the southern gardener. Each summer morning, I would walk to the vegetable garden with my grandmother to see what was ready for picking. I would pop Morning Glory buds and slip cherry tomatoes off of the vine for my little brother. Each summer evening, I would walk around the yard with my dad or my MawMaw (grandfather) and look at each plant specimen to see what progress had been made during the day. For my cousins and siblings, the gardens of our grandparents, great-Aunts or parents were the central focus of all our adventures. I do not remember a time when I did not know the common names of all the plants around me.

I have come to understand as an adult that this knowledge of flora is not necessarily normal. On a trip cross-country with my future husband, I realized that I am unable to drive in regions without varied flora along the roadside (say in South Dakota or Wyoming). Why? Because I identify plants in my head as I drive down the road as a way of staying awake and alert.

In our first house as a married couple, I had created a hodgepodge yard that was comforting and beautiful (in my opinion). While I am absolutely against knick-knacks, I habitually collect plants that have emotional significance. Collecting plants can be a very dangerous habit even if you don't intend to move. Plants are living organisms so they can die (!!!), they can just look bad, or they can overgrow their spot. In our old house, I had rosemary and peonies transplanted from my good friend ec, thyme along the footpath, peonies from my paternal grandmother, a bearded iris that I gave to my maternal grandmother for Mother's Day two years before she died, and countless other greenery laden with memories.
When we decided that our small house in the country needed to be traded in for a city yard, I knew moving was going to be tricky. What would I take from my large, overplanted yard that would fit in my new, teeny tiny yard? On top of downsizing considerations, we moved in the middle of summer which is NOT when you want to be transplanting. The choices were hard but I am never better than when I have a deadline (ask my coworkers). I limited myself to two large pots stuffed with odds and ends. Once planted, I took these 2 pots (yes, only 2 pots!) to my dad's house for babysitting until we could focus on the yard. One pot had a sprout of thyme, some purple cannas given to me by a neighbor, a rosemary plant, and a peice of my grandmother's iris. The other pot contained a lovely variegated ivy and assorted daylilies. Since my paternal grandmother is still kicking and LOVES to give me plants, I'm sure I can trade a day of yard labor for more peonies.

We spent the fall unloading boxes and the winter building a fence, getting landscaping plans approved and living life. The official landscape plan above was provided by my good buddy L.-a landscaping professional and my twin from another family. We have had to make a few changes due to power lines, sewage pipes, and general plant preferences but the gist is the same. L. likes viburnum and holly but I like hydrangea and indian hawthorne.
Our new yard was incredibly, undeniably terrible. It's only .10 of an acre, sod laid down over concrete, full of weeds and on a busy corner. The house is unusually tall and narrow with two porches -essentially a box. The previous owner had lived there only a year and had done little to improve the soil or the curb appeal. When we looked at the house, I KNEW exactly what to do to that yard to make it charming and cottagey. Unfortunately, we had a lot of other things that had to happen first. I hid my head in shame all through last summer and fall and winter. I amused myself by putting in a few annuals and some herbs to keep the cooking decent.

It is spring and the gloves are on! We are making my garden dreams reality and I am basically humming with green thumb energy. Our fence is built (see previous post ). Last weekend we put in 3 truckloads of mulch and planted 20 plants. Only 2 truckloads of mulch and 20 more plants to go and the garden will be started. I can see my vision beginning to take shape but it will be at least a year before other people will see the fruits of our work. Daisies and roses of all colors will peek over the fence, small trees will shade the side yard, herbs are already peeking around. I walk around my yard every morning and every night to see what's happened during the day. Yesterday I taught my son how to recognize the first violets of spring.

Our family land has been sold and will eventually become a hotel or a shopping center. My dad lives on 5 new acres only 15 minutes from my new house. When he comes to visit me (or his grandson more likely) we walk around my yard inspecting what's growing. He asks me what a certain plant is, where I got it or when I'm going to give him a piece of it. Last weekend I crowed to him on our early morning phone chat that my grandmother's iris was up and green in one of the big pots he babysat last summer. I could hear his chest puff out-he knows how important family trees (and shrubs and perennials) are.


ec said...

I'm in tears. e

Sucar said...

Being very sick will do that to you (make you remember how much you miss living across the street from me:) ). I started out writing about this big mudhole at the end of my grandma's driveway and i was going to tie that in with the clay-like wine. Maybe that will be next post.