My garden started as a small fantasy many years ago. A product of my distaste for the large multi-acre lawns (as favored by Americans) as environmental disaster areas, in conjunction with my memories of my mother's parents' garden in Wales, it slowly formed in the back of my mind.
What I wanted was a small, highly manageable lawn, maybe ten by twenty feet, or a bit bigger, that I could easily and carefully maintain in perfect condition and health. One where I could literally cut it by hand with a scissors if I really wanted to. One where I would be intimate with the grass and not just an anonymous caretaker.
When I came into this building and property in 1990, there was little that commended itself to this fantasy. The part of the land that is not swamp, the part around the building, was pretty much what they call in the construction trade "gravel". Gravel does not mean to the professional what it means to the layman. What we lay people think of as gravel they call "crushed stone". What they call gravel is a random mix of sand with rocks up to six inches in diameter mixed into it. It is what comes out of "gravel pits" ("sand pits" to the layman) without any processing.
There were a few weeds growing here and there, a bit of sumac and some patches of scraggly, coarse, annual grasses, but not much else. There was a large area on one side of the building that tended to be parked on by the third car to stop here, and a smaller area on the other side that sloped down toward the road.
The larger area I soon blocked from the road with a crude wall of large stones, stumps, and branches. I added a lot of random sorts of organic matter - horse manure, which is mostly sawdust soaked in urine with dried horse poop mixed in, and some composted sludge from a local sewage treatment facility (good stuff!). It now, years later, is a field, with a healthy crop of grasses and weeds that I let grow tall and go dormant in the summer ("amber waves of grain").
After a couple of years I decided that I wanted to level the smaller area and try to make a nice little private space out of it. It is accessed from my kitchen door, which is the only direct way in and out of the "living space" part of the building - I wanted that "private" doorway to be something I could walk out through naked without shocking too many people... and I wanted to have that door lead somewhere other than a desolate patch of sand and weeds.
I arranged with a local landscaper to have him bring random dirt that he had left over from some ditch clearing he was doing, to fill the sloped area up to the same level as the rest. This took about six small dump truck loads. I built a crude retaining wall at the end with "blasted ledge", or broken up pieces of granite, from a nearby gravel pit. I had a local kid run over to the sewerage place and get a load of that really "good stuff" and dump it on top, and then my neighbor (who runs a nice little nursery around the corner) came over and roughly pushed it all level with his little tractor.
My first priority was to get some evergreen shrubbery planted around the outer edges to give me some privacy once they grew in a bit. I was at the steep end of the learning curve and it was a few years before I had figured out the sort of thing that worked well and how to plant them well, and got most of these into the ground. Basically it is a random hedge, with many different species and varieties of trees and shrubs, that is slowly closing the gaps in itself as it grows.
There are junipers, yews, hemlock, false cypresses, holly, and a few individual trees like the white fir I bought from an avid arborist named Sandy. It was but a 30" stick back then, now it is about 12 feet tall, strong and beautiful, and still putting on about 18" each year. The colors contrast, as do the textures. The general effect is of a natural landscape or chunk of woods, with certain areas appearing more "arranged," with different senses of balance or formality, but overall a soothing and cozy space.
The garden is about 40 feet wide and stretches about 100 feet long towards the road. The plantings form a 6 to 10 foot wide "border" all the way around it, full of shrubbery, perennials, and stones in various arrangements.
The lawn, which I grew from seed and maintain with organic fertilizer and as little watering as the weather will let me get away with, is a real treasure. I mow it high, very high - I mounted my lawnmower wheels an inch lower on the base than they were supposed to be, and I also bought some 8" wheels to replace the stock 6" wheels. I can mow the grass two inches higher than the machine was intended and it is really good for the grass to be kept that long. It is also really nice on the soles of my feet...
The lawn is a source of constant comments and compliments, all of which I receive with due pleasure and courtesy - but the best return I get is when someone develops their own personal relationship with it, their own place they like to flop down and let it breathe up through them, their own little private bonding place with the planet. My friend Cyndi says you can make "grass angels" in it. Brendan says he makes "butt angels".
As I have added more and more flowers to the area around the lawn, under and between the shrubbery, I have been rewarded with a profusion of color and scent lasting from April until long into November. From late May through September there will typically be a dozen different plants flowering, which is sometimes quite dizzying in its beauty.
The local "wild" life have also taken notice, and rather sadly sometimes have decided that Huw's garden is the best place in town to go for a relaxing dessert after a night out carousing. They may go frolic in the swamp or gaze at the sunset on a little evening out with the fawns, followed by a nutritious but bland feast of fresh branch tips - but whatever and wherever they go, no evening out is complete without a light but succulent grazing of lily buds, fresh yew fronds, and sometimes a nibble or two of phlox or lupine.
It is a bit of a jolt for them, however, when the proprietor turns up to see how the patrons are enjoying their visit! I have opened my kitchen door to stand face to face with a rather nervous and confused doe, wondering what to nibble next, her husband making short work of some holly leaves and the two youngsters awkwardly playing hide and seek around the hemlock.
The adults are so incredible in their grace as they leap and bound off into the night, and the little fawns so clumsy and defenseless in their attempts to do the same. I don't think there is any way to ever get closer to deer than this.
Still, I wish they wouldn't eat the scenery!
I am going to stop for now - I hope you enjoyed this little tour through my garden.
© Huw Powell