The yard is now mostly snow free and greening up. I make my way around each day after work, 1 or 2 circuits, checking on winter damage, seeing what’s coming up. Yesterday I noticed that one of the hellebores, nestled at the edge of the woody area, was blooming, its deep magenta blooms nodding on short stems. There are two more hellebores not yet in full bloom. At the other corner of the yard are daffodils just about ready to flower and crocuses have sprouted up all over the front border.
It’s a tantalizing and contradictory season, the landscape still brown and sandy and dry. Dead leaves from last fall litter the dormant grass. The brown and rolled up leaves of the rhododendron are a constant reminder of winter harshness. But everywhere there are tastes and nibbles of spring.
I try to feel this as an invitation, to experience a rising of joy, and often I do feel that. But it can also feel like pressure looking at everything that needs to be pruned and weeded and edged and raked. In recent years I’ve become all too aware of the limits of time and an aging body.
My lot is 1/3 acre. Over the years, I’ve put in lots of perennial beds, mostly not all that well planned. There’s the circular bed in the middle of the front yard that developed after I had a spruce tree taken down and needed to fill the big bare spot that emerged and the bed at the corner of the driveway that I created from the dregs of the topsoil I’d had hauled in for the circular bed. In the back, there’s a long border that grew from a smaller bed left by the previous owners of the house. There’s a teardrop shaped bed that grew up around an old laundry post that has since fallen down, another bed that started as an herb garden until I realized it didn’t get enough sun–the Siberian iris I’d planted around the edge were taking over and the herbs dying away. Now it’s home to daylilies and iris.
I put many of these beds in during summers off when I worked at the university. I reveled in my strong back, my ability to dig and haul wheelbarrows full of dirt around, to wrench shrubs out of the earth and move them to a different spot, to attack overgrown clumps of hosta roots or Siberian iris roots and break them up into a host of smaller plants, to wield the tiller and shove the unpowered mower around.
I’ve never been athletic or thought much about fitness so it surprised me how much I enjoyed the physical labor of gardening. I always paced myself. I’d work for a while, then pause to watch birds and rabbits and just feel the air. I’d go inside, get a drink, sit and look at the garden, maybe stretch a bit, before plunging back in. But even with my measured approach I’d end the day achy and covered head to toe in dirt–but oh so satisfied.
Now I work full time through the summer months and my back and hips no longer tolerate long hours bent down to plant and weed–30, 45 minutes and I’m done. I’ve slowly come to realize that something needs to shift. I need to downsize the garden and make it more easily tended–use shrubs and ground cover more–put in some raised beds, plant things in planters. I approach this partly as an interesting design problem to be solved and I’m excited by the possibilities.
But I’m also sad. These beds–even the sometimes scruffy and overgrown ones–hold memories. I meant to get started on this project last year but couldn’t bring myself to disassemble any of the beds. Let’s say I start with the bed at the back of the yard. Is it the phlox that will go? The crocosmia with its scarlet flame of bloom? The nepeta that my old cat Indigo used to nibble on? The rose that I nurture along each year and then watch it die back each winter? The same questioning happens with each bed I look at.
There are certainly lessons here about attachment and letting go, about bowing and bending to what is, to the present moment, about adapting–and that’s fitting. That’s what a garden’s all about–adaptation and change.