A Garden Obituary – Death by Natural Causes

The house was built in 1920. The garden came shortly thereafter, I am sure. The previous owners, an Italian couple,had lived there for fifty years. They filled the large lot with fruit trees and vegetables. The area had been a village,on the outskirts of the city, before the suburbs grew up around it and the city annexed it. The old timers in the neighborhood, the ones that would talk to us, told of back and side yards filled with flowers for the house, veggies for the table, and grapes for the wine glass. The couple that lived next door dutifully planted a hundred or so tomato plants each year for sauce, until they passed away in their nineties. Directly behind them, another neighbor still smoked pork and bacon in a homemade smokehouse attached to the back of his garage. In the fourteen years we lived there, a solemn nod of his head was all I ever got from him. Remnants of these gardens dotted the neighborhood, born of a sense of self-sufficiency not some trendy “green” movement.
Our backyard had been neglected for a few years. Grape vines had escaped their arbor along side the garage and wound through neighboring trees and across the garage roof. Most of the fruit trees,apple,cherry,peach and plum,were worn out and diseased. Their fruit good only for feeding the yellow jackets and fodder for the compost heap. Sadly they had to come down. A potting shed, behind the garage, its roof rotted by neglect came down also. Its brick floor became a patio that faced an old brick fire-pit, scene of many enjoyable evenings with family and friends.
A large sour cherry survived. It bore fruit every three years or so and shaded the house from the afternoon sun. An apple tree,next to my neighbor’s garage I left also. It bloomed wonderfully each spring and had a shape you only get from a fifty year old apple tree. In the shade beneath it ferns, goats-beard and impatiens thrived each summer. In its low hanging branches,the cat took afternoon naps.
Half the yard became a ball field, baseball in spring and summer, football during fall and winter. the other half, a 30 by 30 foot area , I originally planted with vegetables. Later I expanded into perennials, mostly divisions from my mother’s garden. There were a few legacy plants also, peonies,day lilies,self-sown fennel, a couple of odd bulbs, that I still have yet to identify, and a paradise plant that had no business this far north. Its roots hugged the foundation of the house in the sunny SW corner.
Much of what I found there I reused,trellises,brickwork,pots and tools ,cheap Slovenian that I am. And although my garden was much different then the ones that had been there before, I felt the continuity of the place. When we sold the house we took many of the plants with us. Something to get us started at our new house as well as something to remind us of our old one. I left more than enough for the next occupants to have a good start.
After five years I realize they we uninterested. I stopped by my old neighbor’s to help him move and got a chance to look into the yard.Trellises that I had built or mended lay rotting alongside the garage. Weeds and scrub stood head high throughout the yard.Shrubs sprawled untrimmed.The brick paths and patio had disappeared beneath weeds and wild grasses.
Most gardeners realize that their gardens are artificial constructs, without a constant and firm hand to impose their will on nature it will take over rapidly. I understood this myself but somehow thought that after eighty odd years of cultivation that garden would somehow survive,but it was not to be. It has been pronounced dead, by natural causes.


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