Finding a way back


I didn’t grow up in the garden.

 I do recall my mother growing tomatoes, and maybe basil, in a small patch just outside the garage of our old English Tudor.  But the garden played only a bit part in the family narrative, and I never gave it much thought when plotting out my own life story.

 So when my husband and I left apartment living, babies in tow, and moved into our first house with a yard – a nod to our shared wish to give them outdoor space to wander and grow – I had no plans to garden. 

 In a twist of destiny though, I discovered in the spring after our December move-in that that first house came with a flourishing English garden, lovingly and carefully tended by a true Brit who’d returned to her motherland.  I’m sure that, when pulling up what looked like random weeds in that plot wrapped around the back deck, I destroyed what were destined to be some colorful flowers.

 I watched the garden unfold over the next several months of that first spring, bloom after bloom timed perfectly. I marveled at how many different and stunning flowers kept breaking through the ground. And I began to think that it might be a great project to undertake with the kids – to plant seeds and watch what happens.

So we set out the next season to start our own garden.  We’d do vegetables, to avoid comparison to the master garden across the yard.  For a while the kids, when still small, helped with the planting and gathering. To my amazement, everything we put into the ground sprouted.  Once we threw a few watermelon seeds down, watched some sprouts come up, took a two-week road trip and returned to find small, round watermelons on the ground. The kids thought that was pretty cool. So did I.

 Everything about the garden made me happy: the wonder of planting seeds and watching new growth; the release of sweat and the texture of dirt; the space of air and time to think while doing rote work; the satisfaction of results; even the weeding, which was oddly cathartic.

 I kept up a garden of some sort at each of our several houses while the kids were still around. More than fifteen seasons of abundance.

Over time though I grew weary of the constant weeding and the passing off of bountiful harvests of zucchinis, tomatoes and the like to friends, neighbors and colleagues, to the point when gardening became a chore. It was time for the white flag.

 We traded the old fixer-uppers with yards for new townhouses and condos with dishwashers we never had, central air we always wanted, and smaller spaces we could maintain with ease.

 Ten years passed, and for most of those I didn’t miss what we left.  As long as I could grow a pot or two on our small deck, I was fine.  Didn’t miss the weeding. Didn’t miss the yard work. Didn’t miss the snow shoveling. The blown furnaces. Burst water pipes. Blizzard power outages.

 But then restlessness set afoot. 

 I needed room to breathe, spending more hours working from home in front of a computer. I wasn’t getting out nearly as often as I should -- as I would, say, if I had a garden to tend. 

 I started daydreaming.

 Next time I’ll have a house again  - with a much smaller footprint but still a front porch, an office for writing, lots of windows for light, and a backyard with room for a garden.

 I'll do flowers. You can never have too many flowers.

 I started scanning local real estate listings and dragging my husband to open houses. Every now and then, we were tempted.

 Here’s the thing, though, about those houses with gardens: They tend to come with more bedrooms and bathrooms than we need, appliances and furnaces on repair watch lists, and yards that demand maintenance beyond simple weeding – all of which raised cash alarm bells.

 And of course it was a sign that most of the other folks traipsing through those same open houses had toddlers in tow and plenty of years to give.

 What to do then if you want the garden but not the yard?