Whose garden is this?


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!


We can certainly empathize with the garden clean-up. This place was neglected for years, and we're only just now getting a very small part of the gardens to be functional. It is a process, and sometimes not a swift one. You do have a lovely space though, and you're right, it does look like you have a LOT of callas!

I think you can make the space work for you. Maybe mix some of the natives in around the edible gardens. For your orchard you can try either trees on dwarfing rootstocks, or maybe some multi-grafted varieties?
Yes! Dwarf rootstock, all the way!

We're pretty much drowning in callas. And around here, you can't give 'em away. Just wait until they go dormant...all my internet buddies are going to be getting bulbs in the mail.
Anonymous said…
Cleaning an old existing garden is akin to cleaning the hoarding aunt's attic. You have to be confirmed in your desire of what to keep, what you can give away, and what can enrich existing compost somewhere. Nothing will be wasted, even if composted.

Martha said…
I feel your dilemma! We were raised by our European dad to never toss anything out. But don't forget Grandma's tossing unwanted plants...."over the wall"

Maybe you can find a school that doesn't have money for a kid's garden and donate some plants to them.

I'd go with natives and edibles all the way!!
chaiselongue said…
There are some stunningly beautiful photographs here! Thank you for 'faving' me on blotanical and introducing me to your blog which I'll be following now.
Anonymous said…
Hey there- be glad it is small- you will still have your hands full!

I suggest you call your photographed squirrel "Nibbles".

Every place I have had a garden had some sort of stuff leftover and over grown. That's when I realized that Habitat for Humanity takes plant donations. Call 'em up when you split your many, many plants. Also you could find out if your area has a plant exchange with a local garden club or church group- make some money at a plant sale, perhaps! They will send a truck to pick up the stuff.

Also, some schools and hospitals have gardens that accept donations- Always get a receipt for your taxes. I gave away thousands of dollars of plants- (once 2 overflowing pickup trucks full of hostas)every year, and should have gotten a slip for my taxes. I could have used the tax help but thought it was greedy to do so- now I know better. Plant donation karma works whether you claim it on your taxes or not!

Carol said…
Lisa and Robb, Beautiful light in your photos... I love the Camellia and the first shot is really great. The color!! When I moved here I had to clear briars and brambles... sadly cut down trees that were too close to the house and totally blocking the view... opened up fields to encourage a diverse habitat. Some of the fields are now filled with native blueberries. I am still fighting bitter sweet and sumac. There really was no garden here and I fear I have only created a rambling one. I am adding more natives every year but I do love my peonies and French Lilacs and other non natives! No GMO's live here. The gardens have supported wild honey bees for years and years. Hopefully they are OK up in the Rock Maple. Your place will become you... it will be your garden as you know. I look forward to seeing how it grows! Your Grandmother sounds like a visionary ... how lucky to have had her as a mentor! Fabulous post! Carol
Lisa said…
I think you're going to have a lovely time restoring and recreating your garden. What fun! You've got some treasures in the beautiful peachy-colored camellia (very unusual) and the persimmon (I love that squirrel picture). I have an old Hachiya (one of the first trees I planted as a young gardener in Georgia) which are ripened off the tree, unlike the Fujis. We have a native persimmon here in the Eastern U.S.

We were grad students at Berkeley many years ago, so I'm familiar with the area -- great for gardening!

All the best,

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