Through the Garden Gate

When the world wearies . . .

I’ve always bristled (inwardly) at the habit most have of calling the area(s) around their homes the ‘yard.’ Prisons have yards, my home will be surrounded by a garden, thank you very much. More than a mere quibble over semantics, these two terms connote to me a different approach to and relationship with the out-of-doors spaces that are part-and-parcel of the total package one calls ‘home.’ I understand that many (if indeed not most) people have no interest in gardening, either for pleasure or for the sake of duty in keeping up appearances, and for them, a yard that is landscaped is perfectly satisfactory — hire a mow/blow/go team and Bob’s-your-uncle. I aspire to something else entirely.

I enjoy gardening — I appreciate it as a creative outlet, I relish it for the opportunity it provides to nurture, and I embrace (mostly!) the actual physical labor involved. A garden is a dynamic entity, never exactly the same season to season, let alone across the years, begging always for a critical eye and an openness to change. The ongoing care and attention a garden requires engages and satisfies my impulse to nurture: I pinch back here, stake there, and feed and water as I putter about. The bending, stretching, and heavy lifting of garden-making and maintaining meet well with my desire to practice ‘functional fitness’ — why exercise in a gym when one can be doing something productive, out-of-doors no less?

We’ve (finally) begun to design the gardens of Acorn Lodge, and I am determined that we will have gardens, rather than landscapes, even with the challenges that gardening ‘in the wild’ will present. I need to be able to garden: for me, gardening is as much about the making of a home as is the decorating and upkeep of the interior of the house; ‘home’ as expression of and sanctuary for self encompasses the indoors and outdoors, both. That said, it is clear that the gardens for front and back of the house are subject to differing parameters, not to mention have different functions to fulfill.

The front garden must not only be deer-resistant, but also blend in harmoniously with the natural setting. We’ll add a few trees for fall color but mostly take happy advantage of the numerous deciduous oaks that grace the property to provide height to the scheme. The various shrubs and grasses that will be grouped ‘naturally’ amidst the trees will be not only deer-resistant but also drought-tolerant. Closer to the house, we’ll have plants that offer fragrance and those that are a tad more decorative in terms of flowers and/or foliage — vines, perennials, and ferns, but nothing that feels too ‘citified’ for the sylvan setting. We hope to unearth a large number of boulders and stones as we begin the grading the property for the various buildings, and we’ll put that rock to good use in the form of pocket walls that will define planting areas in the most indigenous manner possible. The front garden will extend an invitation and welcome into our home in a manner both graceful and sincere.

As for the back garden, I hope to be able to protect (read: fence) it adequately from the deer (and other critters who may be destructive). Here will be my kitchen garden, chicken coop, and bee hive, not to mention the space to propagate roses, lilies, and hydrangeas. Here is where I’ll tend to my full-to-the-brim English-style borders, and I hope to have a small greenhouse, too. Enclosed and cultivated in a manner that is distinct from the more wild garden in front of the house, the back garden is where we will sit and relax with a cup of tea or glass of wine (or beer!), enjoying a good read or good conversation, or simply the silence. It will be the primary vista from the majority of rooms in the house, and it is the nucleus around which the house, cottage, and barn are clustered, the heart of the property. The back garden will provide sustenance, both physical and spiritual, and a warm embrace.

Recognizing the limits of our stamina and time, we are relieved to accede to the dictum of our neighborhood association which limits ‘landscaping’ to the immediate environs of each home, leaving the majority of each property to the wild state in which it was acquired. Our daughter says, “It’s like you live in a beautiful campground, except people sleep in houses instead of tents,” and, as long as we can have our garden (cake), that’s just fine with us (we’ll eat it too!).

“We must cultivate our garden.”

— Voltaire, Candide

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