A Garden from Scratch

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur garden started out as literally scratch: bare, dry, hard-packed earth, given over to the toenails of the dog (a pretty fierce customer, according to our next door neighbour) owned by the previous proprietors of this house. A more good-natured co-landlady of the backyard was their daughter, whose plastic pool had marked out a circle on the earth that it kept empty of everything including weeds, as long as it had been there. Summer after summer, I suppose, for it was a sad O of pinkish dirt.

Our backyard, a pretty big one, is on two levels, the upper one held in place by a wall made of planks of heavy wood. I worry that they may tumble in another wicked winter, but that’s a problem sufficient unto the day. On the higher level, for our road slopes down, is a lawn, or perhaps more accurately, a stretch of grass and dandelions and low intrusive weeds, some of which bear colourful flowers in the spring. The portion formerly co-owned by dog and small girl, is on the lower level. I don’t think it could have been her dog – it was too mean.

At the end of this wasteland, next to the house, the owner-sellers had flung down, as we say in Jamaica, a ‘patio’ of flagstones, meant I suppose to add appeal to the house. We saw it being put in, so we knew it was added only at the last minute. Here, on this bottom level of dearth, something needed to be done. The lawn on the upper level would look tidy if we cut it and the long bed next to the upper fence had some peonies and wayside lilies and ferns. We could take our time with that.

What though, was to be done here, with the almost nothingness?

David who is our eldest child and the gardener at www.bloomingcity.com suggested giving the entire area over to an English type garden. Fine idea. Never planted a garden before except in straight lines of beds, more or less, but what to do but begin? I hardly remember now how we got started. Perhaps with the red Japanese maple, brought from the tiny garden in front of the townhouse where we lived in Toronto for seven years, a thread of continuity stitching together our old life in Hog Town, our new life here. It’s pretty much all that came from that small square of green.

The digging began with the circle of bare earth where the child’s plastic wading pool had been. There was a lot of lugging in and dumping of new earth, and hopeful buying of plants, some of them at the end of the summer selling season. The delphiniums went in early, small shoots bought when Canadian Tire closed down its garden store. They made a brave showing the first year, and then couldn’t be stopped, except by some brutal winds this summer that took almost all of them down. You can see them in the photograph, tall and showy on their thin stems. After that were about four lavender plants that took their time the first summer, but busted out in the two summers following. We added some grasses in time, though there were lessons to be learned about those. Some ( the not-mounded ones, I think) will not stay politely in place and walk all over everything.


Last fall I transplanted peonies from the bed on the top level by the neighbour’s fence, since several of the plants wouldn’t bloom, since they weren’t in the sun. It’s delicate, supposedly, the transplanting of peonies, but I’d done it before in our first house in Toronto (in one of those long, straight beds by the fence) and they had behaved very well.
They didn’t disappoint this year either, though they bloomed when we were away. For the same reason, I also transplanted the irises from that bed to the lower level. They hadn’t bloomed in two summers and gardener son thought the rhizomes were too far into the ground. A few bloomed this year, but they still appear to be unhappy about something. I have to find out what.

Rudbekia (black-eyed Susan) that stalwart of many varieties, I splattered all over the garden this year, bcause it’s bright, transplants easily, and quickly fills up space. Beside it, in one place, I put campanulas, which were new to me and irresistible for their lovely mauve-blue. Here they are, beside a bundle of ferns. (The rudbekia hasn’t yet bloomed.)



The grasses we must move before frost overtakes the ground, because they have become fat and complacent, lording it over everything. They are pretty into winter, though, comforting interruptions to the snow.

Also in the fall of 2013, helped by Lukas, our faithful Romanian-Jamaican teenage helper who lives up the road, I undertook to make-a garden-bed-with-newspaper, and it worked brilliantly. It’s the ‘bed’ with the campanulas in the photo. So this fall, more of the garden will get the same treatment. http://www.canadiangardening.com/how-to/techniques/create-a-new-flower-bed-using-a-no-fail-technique/a/1513

So where is the poem or the story in all of this? A writer-poet who loves gardens and gardening should be moved to write about spring blossoms, summer flowers, gorgeous shrubs, and the rippling greens in a garden. I’ve used flower images and comparisons to flowers in my poetry, and I do have a poem called “Sunflowers” — but it’s about desperate lovers and unrequited love! Another, called “Up Tropic,” uses images of growing, but it’s about a lover who insists that her beloved be the source of her “greening” or else “free [her] up” for “rooting elsewhere”.

Perhaps it’s time for a flower poem, and a poem or two about happy lovers…