When Robb and I first looked at our little house, the back garden was almost impassable. The mulberry tree clogged up the center of the yard. Most of the edges of the property (which is tiny to begin with) were tangled up with weeds and huge Tarzan-like vines. There were dead branches and abandoned boards all over the place.
We spent the first few months, after we bought the house, trying to dig out of this mess. I could see that, once upon a time, this garden was very special. The owner of the house, Miss Seklemian, was in her 90s, and I imagine that she didn't have the energy to keep up with things. (We never met the home's previous owner. The sale was handled by lawyers from Alameda County, acting on her behalf, who we also never met.)
So, now we're the owners of a somewhat unfocused garden. We've got some lovely older fruit trees, and a truly beautiful camellia. And we've got more onion flowers than you could possibly imagine. We've got an insane number of calla lilies, and more arums than we know what to do with. Our brugmansia are giants. We've got lilacs, and several Old Lady rose bushes.
The thing is that isn't -- quite -- the garden I've been dreaming of.
I'm trying to find a way to merge three distinct gardens in one tiny space.
We've got the existing garden, which seems to be made up primarily of the descendants of every Easter flower ever given out at Miss Seklemian's church. Picture those plants for sale in the "gift" section of your larger grocery store or pharmacy. We've got more than we know what to do with.
Then there's the Native Plant Garden. This garden would be made up of tough, cheerful California plants, and would provide food and habitat for local bees and insects. This garden would be appropriate for California's climate, which only gets rain in the winter time. Once established, these plants would have low water requirements, which appeals to my environmental side.
And then there's the Edible Garden. I've fantasized about planting a home orchard as long as I can remember. What could be more delightful than eating fruits and veggies we've raised ourselves? What could be more eco-friendly, than eating food that hasn't flown half way around the globe?
If we owned acres and acres, and had scads of cash, we'd hire a landscape architect, and carve out a potager garden, a wildlife garden, and an Old Lady garden. Heck, if money and space were no issue, we'd probably have water features and crazed topiary.
But our little back yard is teeny-tiny. It's downright midget-ine.
In moments like this, I ask myself "What would Betty Adams do?" My grandparents' garden was a showcase of natural plants, it boasted a beautifully tended vegetable garden, and it was alive with classic (dare I say "Old Lady") garden flowers. Their garden was a haven for wild creatures, and I still smile when I think of the raccoons that would knock on her back door, asking for dinner.
As I'm writing this, I'm realizing that my grandmother's garden (and her love of nature and her environmentalism) informs all my own choices. My grandparents owned a large property, much of it forested, in Westchester County New York, which they made certain would always remain wild. Their land is now property of the Audubon Society.
In the end, my grandparent's land belongs to everyone.
Which does -- and doesn't -- answer any of my questions. If my grandmother could find a way to integrate three kinds of gardens on her large property, I really should be able to figure this out on my tiny plot of land.
I just need a machete and a shoe-horn!