By Lucy E.M. Black
We are now living in our third house, having moved from our starter home to a sprawling farmhouse and now finally to this one, a downsized version closer to services, where we intend to grow older and creakier. In each of these houses, I planted a garden. I say “I” but in reality, the heavy lifting fell to my indulgent partner while I directed the digging and slogging. All three of the gardens “we” planted has had its own distinctive character. And I find that I miss those gardens almost more than I miss the houses to which each one was attached, as I remember with fondness the time in our lives that each of them has come to represent.
Our first garden was filled with spring bulbs and flowering trees, clematis thick with rich purple, snapdragons and Canterbury bells and foxglove and hollyhocks. It was a lovely, low-maintenance affair that bloomed while we established our careers and produced constant bouquets of flowers for the house. We planted fragrant Hansa shrub roses and sculpted an overgrown pine to look like a giant bonsai. It was the garden where our son first slept in his pram, graduated to playing in the mud, and later sailed pirate ships from his fort. It was the garden that gave me harvests of pears, which my mother helped me to preserve, and a place of tranquil beauty that filled me with contentment.
Our second garden, at the farm, provided us with a completely blank slate since the property’s history of neglect had not included a garden for many years. First, we bordered the long frontage with eleven varieties of lilacs so that there were differently colored blooms peaking at slightly different times throughout the early summer. We then lined those hedges with large swaths of lilies in a spectrum of colors, from yellow to peach to pink to deep reds. Pea gravel paths were laid down, with a large central perennial bed dotted with stepping stones and curved cement benches. Where there were once elms, we installed rows of berry bushes and peonies, fruit trees and shrub roses, and hydrangeas and flowering trees (chestnut and linden), so that we became surrounded by daily surprises and delicate gifts. Bird song was constant, and the little birdbath was well used by feathered visitors. It was the garden where my mother-in-law sat in the shade and enthusiastically supervised my efforts. And the benches provided welcoming corners for quiet conversation and reflection. It was my respite from the stresses of work and a place of calm.
And now we are shaping our third garden. It is a modest and much less lavish affair. There are planter pots and hanging ferns (both so much easier for maintenance), and a strip of sun-loving perennials with a chaotic mix of colors and blooming times. Although the preponderance of squirrels in the neighborhood leaves us only a few of the bulbs we plant, we are developing a shade garden with raspberries for the birds and woodland plantings. Our tiny back yard is still under construction, and we are slowly adding sculptural elements and more plants, attempting to shape a small private oasis. But I am aware that we are far less ambitious now, more careful about plantings, more cautious with our backs. We calculate the cost, both physical and economic, in a way that is new to us. And yet this garden holds its own mystery. The solid, shady maples and more acidic soil are hostile to many of my old sun-loving favorites but the property loves hostas, with which I previously had little success. So we are still learning to love this garden and to find plants that flourish within it. And I can’t help but think how similar I have become to this garden—a little unsure of this new stage in my life, tentative, and yet determined. It is already the background for our more “mature” family barbeques and long luxurious visits on the verandah. This garden represents a more reflective stage in our lives, yet still holds the promise of new life, of dreams, and of the unexpected.
Photo by Jessica Johnston (Kingston, ON) @jdjohnston
Lucy E.M. Black is the author of The Marzipan Fruit Basket, a collection of short stories (Inanna Publications) and Eleanor Courtown, a work of historical fiction (Seraphim Editions). Her award-winning short stories have been published in Britain, Ireland, the US, and Canada in literary journals and magazines. She is a dynamic workshop presenter, experienced interviewer and freelance writer. She lives with her partner in a small lakeside town north-east of Toronto. Her new novel, Stella’s Carpet (Now or Never Publishing), will be released in October 2021.