Hello from the other side

by Rheasq

Yes, I blatantly stole that from Adele, but as a fellow gardener, she just might give me a pass.

It’s been a while.  Ten years, plus.  A decade.  This thread started as a way to express and cauterize a wound; now realizing the wound will most likely never fully heal.  But, I always wanted to turn this into a gardening focused expression.  I guess there was too much compost in the early days.

In the meantime, I made the move of a lifetime.  After nine years of on and off looking and several near misses, I bought my dream house.  A vernacular Victorian farmhouse sited in a downtown urban site.  Three lots; two were original to the build, the third added after the existing house was leveled and pushed into its foundation.  Most of my house has the original (unpainted) old growth woodwork, four fireplaces (none working) with gorgeous original mantels, original windows, original amounts of work to be done.

The three lots in total aggregate about a third of an acre;  a downsize.  One lot for the most part occupied with the house, the 1960s garage and the shed I built shortly after taking ownership.  The lot is divided east and west, the front/public area (east), bounded by the house, a wrought iron fence (not original but harkening to that), and on the back side a privacy fence separating my soon to be garden from Dog Patch — this is the area 115 pounds of dog now calls home.

I left a garden twenty years in the making.  Mostly flat, on all sides surrounding by beds filled with habitat of all sorts.  Fully its own, made by me.  Heavy clay with a stripe of moraine on one side.  Lessons learned and garnered.  Processes honed and specific.  A burgeoning of blooms and plants and wildlife, managed organically.  What was I thinking??

I am assessing the debris field that is my new garden scape.  The beauty of the public garden space is seven (now six) mature river birches creating beautiful shimmering and musical ambiance in the planting area.  There has been a lot of history since 1880, families, lives lived and lost, the 1913 flood, the downed houses, the time of neighborhood and urban decline and decay.  These have left tattoos in a soil perhaps once an ancient river bed?

The first order of business was the airlift of plants (via truck?) ten miles from old garden to new.  Not sure how many truckloads, 4, 5?  With only the very front formal space a glimmer in my eye in terms of planting, all the rest had to be manhandled into turf areas hastily turned in order to beat the coming winter.  By the time this was accomplished, tags were lost, broken, erased.  As they were lifted from the pot to the soil, root balls broke up.  While allowing for the propagation of new plants, it also meant that come spring, I would have no idea what was where, or even what would survive.

Every shovelful is a voyage of discovery.  This area was heavily glaciated in the way back, so rocks are common. I harvest those for drainage projects. The soil has other ghosts: pieces of sheet glass and bottles, metal bottle caps, pieces of iron fencing, bits and bobs hard to determine. I don’t like to wear gloves when I garden, but it has become a necessity.

Sited in an urban historic district, all “major” exterior changes to appearance have to be approved in advance by the local hysterical, that is historical, commission.  Since the plan was to recreate the front turfed area into a pleasure garden, I had to submit a plan for approval. The process was not as bad as it has been advertised.  I hand drew a plan, wrote a brief narrative of what the scope and process would be and included example pictures from the garden I left behind.  It didn’t take long for me to receive the seal of approval.

I had named the old garden The Artburetum.  What to call this new space, my new heart.  With a shout out to the old, but adorned with the beautiful birches of the new, the new garden is The Artburetum at Varekeno.  Varekeno was the home place in Dr. Zhivago, a place of refuge where the protagonists would go for safety, surrounded by birches.