Home & Design

Green Acre #95: Spring Arrives . . .

THE SNOW is heaped upon the branches of the forsythia this morning, flowers glowing like yellow gold beneath a white blanket. Meanwhile, it’s cozy in my office, which feels like a tree house, the kwanzan cherry has grown that large. . . . 

This was to be our starter home. Now I think they’ll be carrying me out feet first—that’s the way it’s done, right?

When the Prince and I were house-hunting, we envied the big houses along Washington DCs East Capitol Street, imposing in height with plenty of floor space for yoga or whatnot. But they were selling for $10,000 more than this one and we had already stretched our budget by two grand. . . .  Can you believe there was such a time?  

But 1,100 square feet of living area was reasonably sized for two, plus there was a garage, basement, attic  and additional odds and ends of unfinished space—I’m thinking of the coal room under the front porch that, 35 years later, I still dream of turning into an office or wine cellar. I also thought that the garage might be a great studio, a place for my Feifferesque dances, all (imaginary) long limbs and dramatic swoons.

And then Baby came along and space became scrunched, or scrunchied, since those fabric-covered rubber bands were soon a ubiquitous home design element. (They have reappeared, in “fashion.”)

Now with Baby married to her Personal Prince Pete and moved on, we’re back to two, bumbling along trying to remember what it was we were doing together in the first place. Sometimes we recall, and it is quite nice. Sometimes we are astonishingly mismatched; he informed me the other day that AstroTurf is a brilliant idea for a front yard. We’re also, he says, getting too old for three-story houses. Snort.

That is all neither here nor there.

The house also came with gardens, front and rear. Just as this was to be the starter home, it was also the starter garden, and has always been considered such, by me anyway.

These were originally and definitely guy spaces, designed (if you want to call it that) by the previous resident, a short, chunky gent who left a gun behind in the attic and a Ken doll with hair glued on in an interesting area of his lower torso, if you catch my drift.

There was little here but dirt, a few weeds and a laundry line. A yucca grew in a corner, lethal-looking leaves slicing up, sending off panicles of white flowers that were instantly covered with ants. A twig we were told was an apricot tree was just starting. Miraculously, this was in a good position for a tree—though when it grew 30 feet and was covered with rotting fruit we realized it was a lousy choice for a small garden.

Always with the idea that this home was temporary, I gardened, picking fast-growing, pretty things, with pretty scents, not giving a hoot if they were appropriate for the space. Next year we’ll be gone, I said and said. I’m not sitting here for years watching a plant grow.    

Invasive was a good thing, I opined. Wisteria, ivy, honeysuckle, trumpet vines, climbing roses, massive things that quickly gobbled the fences, the garage roof, the back porch pillars. Flowers were boring but colorful—cleome, cosmos, begonias, impatiens.

In front we planted ivy and stuck in a couple of the aforesaid forsythias, a pink dogwood and the contents of a bag of bulbs ordered from American Express for $30 that still put on a show. Improve the soil? Why? Someone else can do that next year. In the meantime, it will all look swell.

And so another spring begins, and we’re still here. My Prince thinks the front garden needs an overhaul; he considers the mosquitoes that so enjoy the ivy to be a pestilence. The postal persons continue to tramp a path from our front walk to the neighbors’, leaving a sorry patch that if we had any sense would have been turned into a formal walk, stone lined, deliberate, long ago.  

We walk along, admiring nicely planned spaces where someone took the time to consider position and growth and soil composition and whatnot, looking forward to the eventual, which eventually arrived, as it tends to do.

Yet I live in vague hope that next year . . .  maybe I’ll teach a course in everything that can go wrong in the garden.

Meanwhile, the snow falls thick outside the window. My Prince plucked all the daffodils, which I decided were doomed. They’ll cheer the house for a day or two and then fade. I assume the vines will be just fine.   

—Stephanie Cavanaugh

LittleBird “Stephanie Gardens” checks in with us every week to let us know about the garden disaster du jour. 


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