“Gardens are not made by singing ‘Oh, how beautiful,’ and sitting in the shade.” (Rudyard Kipling)
“I do some of my best thinking while pulling weeds.” (Martha Smith)
When I moved from Germany into our current home near Dallas, my new home was by all standards a fixer-upper. The first years I was more busy with doing major improvements in the house than thinking about my typical American backyard other than getting the fence replaced that was falling apart.
The backyard consisted of a small slab of concrete with an ugly fiberglass roof that served as patio (and was hot as hell already in spring), seven or so wild growing shrubs around the kitchen bay-window area, an untamed crape myrtle tree growing close to the garage, about a 3000 square feet of weeds that tried to disguise as lawn, a dead tree in the middle of the so-called lawn, and the said fence around it. On the weekends I took the mower out and within a little bit over an hour I was done mowing the lawn in the front and the back, running in circles like the proverbial mad Englishman with my dogs thinking I was inventing a new game.
I had some cheap plastic chairs, which saw me using them maybe three times in spring and three times in fall, and occasionally I would use my little barbecue grill, but other than that the backyard was mainly the “facility” for my dogs.
When my second husband, Dave, moved in, we started using the backyard a little bit more – Dave attached a hammock between two posts of the “patio,” and he collected a discarded swing seat from a curb nearby. Still, this backyard was light-years away from being a garden, and Dave seemed to have only a limited understanding of what I was yearning for, not that I really knew what I was yearning for. At this time I just had a blurred vision of creating a retreat, a place to allow nature to return and give flora and fauna a place to thrive.
My vision became a bit more focused shortly after Dave died when a severe thunderstorm ripped off the last intact sheet of the fiberglass roof of the patio. It was looking so ugly by now that I felt compelled to start changing my backyard into a garden, starting at rebuilding the patio.
However, it took over another year before a plan emerged. In the meantime I met my husband Tony, living in England at this time, and we used to hang out together in Second Life, an online virtual community. After we decided to take our relationship to the next level, we also started planning to transform “The Backyard” to “Our Garden.”
Tony took it on to plan the extension of the patio and to design a robust and sturdy pergola that would give some shade but also allow for air circulation and strong winds blowing through without destroying it. I started to blueprint our garden around the patio.
Although we were at times 4500 miles apart, we were working on creating our garden together in Second Life. While Tony worked on the design of the patio and the pergola, I did the landscaping.
Putting our plans into action was a labor of love, especially for Tony who built the complete wooden pergola all by himself and then extended the concrete slab with concrete flagstones, every single one mixed, dyed and poured by his own hands only. This was in fall 2008, and in spring of 2009 we started planting vines, trees, and shrubs and our first flowerbed. Tony handcrafted a path of concrete flagstones, and over time we started adding some more flowerbeds.
While the vines and most of the trees and shrubs are growing very well, finding the right kind of perennials that tolerate our heavy, clay-like soil was a bit of a challenge, but we are getting there by replacing plants that don’t make it with some others and see if they are better suited for their new living space.
Keeping our garden well maintained and groomed requires time – and passion. Not to mention the sweat and lots of water we are drinking while working outside. We’ve split the responsibilities as Tony trims, takes care of the vegetable garden, digs, and plants, and I usually mow and weed the flowerbeds.
What seem to be daunting tasks considering the fact that garden work like house work is extremely repetitive and boring sometimes, I started to embrace those working hours in the garden as “me time” where I can allow my thoughts to drift and flow, and come up with new ideas especially for my writings. Having an office job that keeps me away from home for about 11 hours every workday, I find some significant contentment when I’m working outside and reconnecting with nature and the elements. It happens quite often that I stop in the middle what I’m doing and allow myself to “melt” with my surroundings by listening intensely to the birds, strolling through the garden and smelling the trees, the flowers, the scent of the fresh-cut grass, watching the birds, bees and butterflies fluttering around and making themselves at home on a piece of land that was just about three years ago a place of nothingness with a fence around. Or I just sit down somewhere on the grass and talk to Freddy, our beagle, who is deeply interested in everything we’re doing and helps as best as he can by sitting on our feet or trying to climb in our laps while we are working.
Then of course there are the hours I spend in our garden just for leisure and relaxation – our meals outside, spending some quality time with Tony and our friends or just alone watching the sunrise early in the morning, or star gazing at night when the air is moist and heavy with the fragrance of our flowers. These are the moments where I feel completely at ease and connected with myself and my surroundings. These are the moments that give me strength, energy, motivation and inspiration.