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The Best of Both Worlds, part 1: A Kick in the Pants

Where Ward and I lived in the South of France, people had gardened for thousands of years. And continued to: every landowner, every city and town took pride in contributing to that beauty. When we moved back to Townsend, I was a bit shocked to look, again, at how little Americans typically invested in landscaping.

Our place was perhaps more neglected than many. The grass -- never very good -- had been wrecked by a Winnebago the tenants parked in the front yard; only crabgrass grew back. The best feature was one nice big maple, which shaded the front of the main part of the house wonderfully in summer. But since there was no curb, people parked cars as far up onto the yard as they felt like — right on the roots of the trees. There was no walk from the street to the door, just a path worn through the weeds, a sea of mud in early spring.

The house, a rural-town simplified Italianate Victorian, was perched on a mound, as was popular for that style. But it had no visual logic to it: neither the house nor the hill bore a relationship to the rest of the landscape. The town sidewalk ended at our property line, leaving our yard looking like a poor relation.

In the nine years we lived here before we moved to France, I’d avoided putting any “major investments” into the yard. “Who knows how long we’ll stay here?” I thought (what an American notion!). But when we returned, I realized what I had lost by that fear of commitment.

For example a little linden tree the town had planted at the front edge of the yard, just before we bought the house, had grown by the time we left to a sapling that was competing for sun with the lilacs next to it. On our return less than four years later, we were surprised to see a medium-sized tree that was now shading out the lilacs.

A mature garden offers not only impressive-sized plantings. Plants interact with each other in interesting ways you can’t plan; the soil improves; you learn from experience.... But I had not been thinking ahead. Now I realized: whether I was here when it matured or not, it was a legacy worth leaving.

Plus a way to work for what I care about. Whatever eventually became of my garden, I needed to invest more muscle where my heart lives.

© Copyright 2005 Catherine Holmes Clark

Published in the six Nashoba Publications papers on Friday, 4 February 2005

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