The house I still co-own in Berkeley, Ca., sits on a ridiculously large double-wide lot. People who visit are always shocked at the enormity of the backyard, which feels like a kingdom compared to other spaces in the Bay Area. And when we moved in, it was beautifully landscaped with two plum trees, two apple trees, a meyer lemon tree, a redwood tree, an oversized avocado tree, and three palm trees. There were also three or four large boxes for planting tucked away behind the original well house and shed, and, randomly, a 5″x5″ stage smack in the middle along the back fence line.
Though the glorious property was a huge selling point for the house, it quickly became apparent that neither I nor my ex nor our co-owner friend Nick were much interested in doing any gardening. Shortly after we got the dogs, all the grass died. (We later found a receipt for the cheapest sod ever, which had been hastily put in as the house went on the market, and unlikely to live even without dogs.) Soon after that we learned one of the apple trees had fire blight and had it removed. At some point an arborist told us the massive date palm in the front yard was going to grow into the side of the house and likely tear the roof off, so it also had to be removed. Then there was the soil disease of some sort that killed a poor, pruned-to-oblivion tree in the front as well as the plum tree next to it. The planter boxes sat empty until they rotted and we had a service come pull them out and throw them away. The brick retaining wall along the fence crumpled and fell over.
At some point, my ex did some amazing landscaping work in the front, terracing around the redwood and planting ferns in big terracotta pots. He took a bunch of flat paving stones piled behind the garage and put them to good use. I often took charge of the overzealous bougainvillea threatening to take over our outbuildings. And eventually we hired a gardener to keep the whole thing knocked down.
Still, the property is a mere shadow of its former glory. The photo above was taken on the day I moved out, with the giant dirt pit fully on display (and Joel and Huck and some palms). One day Nick and I hope to whip it back into shape. You know. When we win the lottery. Because that ish is EXPENSIVE.
I remember almost nothing about the summertime landscaping of this Minnesota house, because it snowed the week after I moved here and didn’t stop until April. I do know that we had to rip a bunch of stuff out next to the driveway to put up our fence. Once the snow finally melted that spot emerged as a muddy pile with a dozen tiny stumps jutting from the ground, both inside the fence and directly outside it.
The people who lived here before left behind these two bits of garden paraphernalia, as well as some sort of mesh pot that was also chained to the tree until we pulled its rusted carcass off and threw it away. It is these momentos from the old homeowners that resulted in me promising Claire we could put in a flower garden on this spot. Emboldened by that declaration, I also decided to put in a small herb and vegetable garden, even going so far as to order a terraced cedar planting box from Amazon which is waiting in its box in the front hall closet.
I have never grown a single thing on purpose in my entire life, and a lot of things have died under my watch. For example, see my entire backyard in Berkeley. My wedding gift to the ex was a very old bonsai tree which we killed when we drove from North Carolina to California four years into the marriage. Look how that turned out.
Claire has grown up gardening with her mother, and she is adamant we have a garden at our house, too. For several hours one Saturday she raked our little garden plot and put the ladybug in exactly the right spot and brushed off the remaining brick edging. She gave me seeds for Mother’s Day. And, left all on its own, mystery things are growing in our spot, making the prospect even more exciting.
The only thing I recognize are the chives, and then only after Claire was like, “Ooh! Chives!” and started chewing on them last weekend. Someone thought the flowers in front were tulips – as does Claire – and maybe the plants toward the middle were hostas. Everything is sort of scattered. I hear it’s not too late to dig them up and re-organize a bit, which sounds scary. There is still a lot of debris around that needs to be clipped and pulled and sawed down. Pretty sure we don’t have a saw.
So I guess this is a gardening weekend. I’m actually really looking forward to being outside as much as possible – it’s going to be 70 on Sunday! Apparently going through the Worst Winter Ever was enough to turn me into an outdoors person, which is not exactly how I would have described myself before coming here.
I am more concerned about the actual planting and growing things. I’ve been reading some blogs, and it sounds like people take their gardening very seriously. They, like, have a plan. I have this tiny plot of land and a yet-to-be-assembled planter box and two packs of seeds. I have a vague list of the veggies I want to plant. I have a vague idea of things like soil and mulch. I am, of course, very excited to buy cute gloves and some sort of gardening clogs for me and Claire. But, basically, I’m going to go to a garden center and buy some stuff, stick it in the ground, and see what happens.
Please, please let something good happen!
My real fear, of course, is that nothing will grow and everything will die and Claire will think I am a total gardening failure. She’s so excited for us to do this together that I don’t want to let her down! I’m willing to give it my all, and suspect I will even like it. But life would be so much easier if only she would take up, say, collecting vintage sequin evening gowns or playing the clarinet. Now those are some topics where I can add real value.