May 13, 2013

Aging and Gardening and Me

Myra's Little Garden - New Yorker Cartoon Premium Giclee Print

Gardening gives me great pleasure, but it wasn't always that way.

During my working days (and weeks and years), I puttered in the garden now and then, but bike riding was always my first choice for weekend activity. If the weather wasn't good for biking, it wasn't good for gardening either. 

When I retired (1/1/1995) and had more spare time, I gradually began to spend more time gardening. Then the huge hackberry tree that had dominated (and shaded) our backyard died. I loved that tree. To console myself, I hired the wonderful Janet Gaskin of Landscape Design to completely redo the backyard. We did away with the grass lawn, planted three big river birches, installed a pond with waterfall and stepping stones, and created the lovely oasis I've enjoyed ever since from the screened back porch, where I can be found whenever the weather permits. 

When age and Parkinson's forced me to retire the bike, gardening took over as my prime outdoor activity.

I liked biking because it didn't require pre-planning, arranging a time and place with friends, or putting on special garb. Just hop on the bike and go. Gardening is even better. A bike ride usually meant finding an hour or two of free time. With gardening, I can be reading the morning newspaper on the porch and decide to take a five-minute break to feed the fish in the pond or fill the bird feeder. On the way back to the porch, I might see a shrub that could use some pruning and end up tinkering there for an hour.

Over the years, the part of gardening I've come to enjoy most is deciding which plants might go where. On Thursdays or Fridays in the spring and fall, I can often be found at the American Plant store on River Road, where plant tables have been stocked for weekend shoppers. I have a wide variety of temptations.

A few years ago, while pushing the power mower around the front yard on a sweltering August day, I decided to get rid of the front lawn, too. Janet Gaskin to the rescue once again!

Last year's derecho storm brought down a big magnolia and an old double cherry tree in my side yard and left a mess where a shade garden had been. Now, we're transforming the space into a sunny butterfly garden.

Last year, I also realized -- with the storm damage, my aging, my Parkinson's and my bad back -- the time had come to turn over much of the heavier work to someone else. I've found a terrific part-time gardener to help. Now I can just prune, putter, and plant as my mood and energy permit, knowing the garden will be well tended no matter what I do or don't do.

I've mentioned Diana Athill's wonderful memoir, Somewhere Toward the End. She aptly describes my feelings about what remains of my gardening:
I manage to do at least a little bit of work myself; tie something back, trim something off, clear some corner of weeds, plant three or four small plants, and however my bones  may ache when I've done it, I am always deeply refreshed by it. Getting one's hands into the earth, spreading the roots, making a plant comfortable -- it is a totally absorbing occupation, like painting or writing, so that you become what you are doing and are given a wonderful release from consciousness of self. And so for that matter is simply sitting in your garden, taking it in.
Or sitting on your back porch, taking it in.

A Pictorial Garden Tour
Here's the now lawnless front yard as you approach the house:

Here's the other patch of front yard. Those pansies in the foreground have lasted longer than usual in this year's cool spring. Usually they are replaced with impatiens, but a blight has taken those off the market. I guess we'll try New Zealand impatiens instead. A lush climbing hydrangea covers the wall to the left of the front door. The big trunk at left belongs to a tulip tree; I suspect it'll be the next to go.

Here's the side yard, which was shaded by a magnolia and cherry tree until the June, 2012 derecho brought them down. The butterfly garden is a work in progress. That's my house at right.

We go around the side of the house and into the back yard:

This is one view from my back porch rocking chair:

Here's another. Three crepe myrtles planted last fall should soon screen the view of a neighbor's house in the background. Then I can sit on the porch and pretend I'm in a secluded forest far from the city . . . until one of the jets from National Airport roars overhead.

1 comment:

Santosh said...

It's so nice to see all that, wish you all the best john ....