Tuesday, June 30, 2009

In the Beginning....

When I was growing up on Long island's North Shore, gardening was something done by professionals. Our two acres were tended each week by a team that followed the dictates of my father, who ran our lives like a benevolent tyrant.


Mom wanted a rock garden, so one was installed for her in the back, with a weeping willow at its center. Sister Jeannie thought a Japanese garden might be nice outside her bedroom window, and so one gently grew.

My mother, I think, would have liked to get her hands dirtier. But she was only allowed a little border beside the pool where each spring she scraped aside the earth and put down a "flower tape," a gauzy ribbon infused with zinnia seeds and I don't recall what all else, that agreeably filled the corner with psychedelic blooms, which truthfully gave me more pleasure than the manicured lawn and perfectly groomed cherries and crab apples.

We moved into the city when I was in my early teens and gardeners were again employed to fill the boxes on the terrace that surrounded the apartment. My sister Bonnie and I watered them, alternately spraying the plants and turning the hose over the railing to spray the pedestrians 18 floors below, then snatching the hose away as they looked up at the cloudless sky, palms out and brows rippled, wondering where the rain was coming from.

David, my first husband, and I lived on the upper west side, in a one bedroom apartment with a spit of a terrace but a big expanse of window. We stuck toothpicks in avocado seeds, watched as they developed roots, then planted them in an ever expanding row. Spider plants hung down to meet them. There was also an ugly philodendron, strangled against a bark post. I don't think we bought that.

After a few years, we and our avocados and spiders moved to Washington, DC, where we rented a house near the zoo with no garden and no central air conditioning. We were, however, semi-lucky enough to have a glassed in back porch. That garden room was toasty and invitingly green and earthy smelling in January, and a sauna in July. The owners built it themselves and neglected to install a single window that opened.

But even in the summer heat it was gorgeous, and I began haunting the Cathedral Greenhouse for velvety pink cyclamen, and pocketbook plants with their fat yellow chins yawning, and gerbera daisies, which struck me as refined zinnias.

When the plants died, as they usually did, I pitched them and bought more. A philosophy that continues to serve me well...though I don't necessarily buy replacements, but we'll get to that.

A few years later, David and I split up and I moved to an apartment in Adams Morgan with a fire escape balcony that offered a surprisingly fabulous view of the Washington Monument. It was my first real experiments with gardening outdoors, albeit in pots and except for morning glories and moon flowers to scramble up the supports, never from seed.

Then Greg came into my life and, fast forwarding along, a house on Capitol Hill with a little garden that, shall we say, offered nothing but possibilities.

And so it began.

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