April 22, 2012
Spring has delivered another batch of color and sound to our little corner of New Jersey. I awake to the whip of the sprinkler, which silently waters the garden but pings its way loudly across the shingles of the house. Bird songs provide the sound track for my morning coffee as I stare out the window to spot what has blossomed overnight.
If I ignore the high pollen count, these are blissful moments to cherish.
When we moved into this house, it wore a sad pall after more than a decade of neglect. Though I will save the tale of woe and repair for another post, suffice it to say that our friend Jeff lovingly called the place a “dump” upon first inspection.
But it was the state of the large garden that unsettled me most. This house was about to anchor me — a city girl at heart – right in the thick of suburbia, and I wanted the silver lining: the regal boughs of a glorious maple, the swath of green grass blowing in the summer breeze, and the raucous garden exploding with color.
There were four-foot tall weeds with an endless intestinal network of roots that I tried in vain to yank out of the ground. They resembled a jungle in a Rousseau painting and I spent more than an entire day conquering them. Even now, so many years later, I catch a small one popping up and pounce immediately, lest it get the best of me.
Once I cleared the area, I positioned two burning bushes at either end. They provide a spiritual anchor to the garden, and their bright red leaves in autumn make my heart leap out of my chest. It is shameful, but without seeking expert guidance or solid botanical knowledge, I have added more flowers and greenery over time, foolishly planting what feels right with completely blind faith.
A few years ago, I planted Chinese lanterns because I loved them as a child, but like difficult memories, they have become all-consuming. To that I added spearmint, because I find the aroma breathtaking, and the nana tea I steep with its oily leaves can trick me into thinking I’m sipping it at a café in Jerusalem. Alas, the spearmint and the lanterns are stubborn, kindred spirits. Each spring, I am required to wrestle and tame them into submission.
One fall I planted hostas, which settled in during the winter and learned to thrive in our frightful sun while staring down the deer who feast on their lush leaves. Then came lemon balm, because I’d been wooed by its soothing properties, and roses for their scent and their thorns, because I wanted to flash some mojo. Chicks and hens followed, because I needed to show my maternal side, and silver mound, just because its name sounds so tender to me.
Eventually, I dug in with some boxwood because I needed something that didn’t make a statement.
Later I planted the lavender, because my husband spent happy childhood summers on the Istrian coast, where it grows wild. Finally, I stuck in some heather, because the tag said it was South African, which reminded me of my friend Carmel, who would tell me to stop attributing so much meaning to each inch of the garden and just enjoy it.
So I did, and I am. In the wee hours of the morning, I head outdoors to observe in complete silence what nature has wrought on the side of our house where weeds once reigned. The image – a random assortment of plants that might not agree with a skilled gardener — paints a happy memory. It is that explosion of color, I sought. Though nothing fancy, it makes me a little more grateful for what the suburbs has to offer.