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Green Acre #327: 38 Years of Forsythia

Forsythia chez Cavanaugh backlights the red-leaf maple (not yet in leaf) and hides the porch from the sidewalk and passersby. Both of which make LittleBird Stephanie happy (though, 38 years after they bought their home, she wishes she and The Prince had planted hydrangeas instead). / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh. / Photo on front: iStock.

By Stephanie Cavanaugh

Spring has certainly sprung. Overnight, it seems the forsythia went from straggly stems with a frizzle of yellow to a full blaze, topping the front porch railings and visible from the living room, framed by the front windows.

In a week or so, depending on how chill the air remains, it will go from yellow to green and be again a bone of contention between me and My Prince, a fuss that will continue through fall, when the leaves drop off and the plant returns to twigdom.* 

He likes plants restrained or contained. Constipated, I call it, muttering to myself. The forsythias are the chief offenders. When he sits on the porch, he can’t see past them to the street. 

This is a good thing, I think. 

This is a bad thing, he thinks. He likes to hulloooo to the passersby, I prefer to lurk.

The forsythia was planted in a flurry of energy 38 years ago, when we bought this modest row house. Also installed were a patch of ivy mixed with pachysandra, a pink dogwood and a collection of tulips and daffodils offered cheap by American Express. This seemed an easy way to just . . . be done. 

In the beginning, the entire front garden was a thatch of some kind of grass, probably having strayed from a neighboring patch. We didn’t do much of anything to improve the soil before performing our makeover. No double-digging and fertilizing and so forth—the “soil” was 70-some years of compacted crap, for god’s sake. I had better things to do (though what those things were I can’t recall). 

I wish now we’d thought this through just a wee bit more. Thought: What if we’re still sitting here a few decades more than anticipated? What a sight a pair of hydrangeas would be by now, for instance. But I didn’t care for hydrangea then. Old lady flowers, I thought. Well, my years have now caught up with that thought. 

Except for the dogwood, which struggled with diseases for many seasons before we yanked it in disgust and replaced it with a red-leaf maple, and the pachysandra, which long ago was overrun by the ivy (which he also hates—buggy, you know), the front garden has managed to carry on—still not improved, scarcely supplemented, except for many layers of mulch and a lethargic scattering of Osmocote a couple of times each season. An ass-backward way of creating a richer top layer.

But I kept expecting to not still be here in our starter home. By now, I thought, surely, I’d have a living room large enough to jump rope in, should I have that urge. But a bigger place was always just out of reach, around here anyway.

We bought this house for $102,000 when grand homes a few blocks away cost $125,000, an impossible-seeming sum that now sounds laughable. For an extra $23,000 we could have been jumping double Dutch. 

Adding the expense of Baby and the gasping rise of house prices, the gap between what we had and what we wanted never grew narrower, so we considered moving out of the city. Neither of us being government people, being in Washington DC made questionable sense. 

For decades we toyed with the idea of Florida, closer to my sisters, one in Juno Beach and the other in West Palm Beach. Key West would suit, I thought. A bohemian air, excellent food. Maybe Miami, which also has areas of funky sophistication and great food. Both far enough away to get us closer to family but not too close, if you get where I’m coming from.

The years passed in daydreaming, and the front garden straggled along. It had decent curb appeal . . . for when we sell. 

Baby grew up, went to Oxford, Buenos Aires, Austin (we won’t discuss Alabama) and then Raleigh, where she now lives with her Personal Prince Pete and Baby Wesley, with his big blue eyes and bigger grin. 

We mulled a move to North Carolina. Good thing we didn’t. Now they’re planning to move to the wilds of northern Virginia, to be closer to free babysitting.

So we’re going nowhere and have no need for room to jump rope. A sofa long enough to flop on will do. 

I’m still looking at the forsythia and wishing they were hydrangeas, while also trying to kill the damn daffodils, hating their foliage once the flowers fade, managing them being a Sisyphean task. Admire them in someone else’s yard, I say. If you must have them, they go for a buck a bunch at the grocery. If you must have them in the garden, stick them in those little water holders with the pointy bottoms and jab them into the foliage. When they fade, yank them out.   

That’s my gardening tip of the day.

*Twigdom: Not a word but should be. 

LittleBird “Stephanie Gardens” does, in fact, love her Capitol Hill home, which is as full of quirks and personality as she is. 


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4 thoughts on “Green Acre #327: 38 Years of Forsythia

  1. monte thompson says:

    I hate Daffodil foliage too, I just cut it off, hoping they will lose vigor and just die.
    I’m a good gardener but can’t get hydrangeas to bloom regularly except Annabelle. Love, love love them………but they need cutting back to. I guess I’m a little constipated, too.

  2. Katy Ritz-Beck says:

    Enjoyed the forsythia rant. Now I will walk by the yard and put it all in perspective ❤️Rachel’s mom, Katy

  3. Stephanie S Cavanaugh says:

    Thank you, Carol!

  4. Carol says:

    Always wonderful reflection and advice.

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