Wednesday, July 9, 2014
How I Spent My Summer By Julia Spencer-Fleming, Age 53
JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: It's important to state, to begin with, that I am not a gardener. Some of the Reds are real gardeners; I know Lucy and Deb do...things...with their plants that I find hard to follow. Red emerita Rosemary Harris is a Connecticut Master Gardener, for heaven's sake. In contrast, I require extensive briefing from Ross to delineate between weeds and flowers, and my whole family was amazed when I was able to keep a pair of geraniums alive over the winter.
I also have no landscaping ability. You know how some people can look at a bare yard and imagine trees, ornamentals, borders, flower beds and hardscaping? Yeah, not me. I could maybe follow one of those detailed plans you see in BETTER HOMES AND GARDENS - the ones with the dots and the numbers and the pictures of the appropriate plants on the sidebar. But if I had to figure out something on my own? Let's say I'd spend a lot of time convincing the neighbors “the natural look” was in.
Which is why it's odd that I'm spending my mornings this summer undoing a decade of neglect in our back forty. When Ross and I bought our (now) 200-year-old farmhouse, we were 20 years younger, held one job between us (I was a stay-at-home-mom) and had tiny tots who took long naps. We were able to spend hours every week keeping up the apple trees, blackberry canes, grape arbors, asparagus, high-bush blueberries, lilacs, forsythia, quarter-acre vegetable plot, compost pile and, of course, the mowing. Did I mention we have almost four acres?
What happened? We got older. The children got older, and wanted to do something on Saturdays besides watch mom and dad labor outdoors. I distinctly remember the moment I gave up on the vegetables: I was sitting on a milk crate beneath a blazing July sun, about fifteen months pregnant with Youngest, trying to weed the lettuce row while the kids whined about going to the beach. I thought to myself, Wait a minute. I live in Maine. It's summertime. Why aren't we at the beach? When I realized I could buy the entire output of my garden from the local farm stand for fifty bucks, I got off that milk crate and never went back. I think it's still there, buried in weeds and mint gone mad.
As our weekends and evenings grew busier, we ceded one part of the back garden after another to nature. We concentrated on the front of the house, and the space where the kids played, and the spot where we grill. Everything else grew and spread and ran wild. Until this spring, when I took a long stroll around our property and realized Ross and I were just a couple cats away from becoming the Beales in Grey Gardens. “Ross,” I said, “We have to Do Something.”
Thus, my morning routine. I get up, have my tea and toast, slather on sunscreen (at least a shot glass worth!) and head outside with my pruning hook. I've been taking down forsythia that's grown so dense around one side of the barn that it looks like a mangrove swamp under the leaves.
Ross and the Boy have been cutting down saplings and overhanging branches. We're pruning grape vines and slashing Japanese knotweed (to be followed by rooting up as many rhizomes as possible and then tarping it next spring.) We're yanking out berry brambles that have surrounded the old play house as if it was Sleeping Beauty's castle.
I figure that by the fall (unless Ross and I succumb to heat stroke/a heart attack/back strain) we'll have beaten our property into a rough sort of shape. Next summer will be more pruning, more uprooting, maintenance and some planting. We've estimated we have about three years of Maximum Useful Offspring, with 2-3 healthy kids in their teens and early twenties home for the summer and happy (ok, begrudgingly willing) to help. After that? Hey, there's always “the natural look.”