A mezzo in a class by herself
(New York Times)


The garden wasn’t always this way. When I first moved in it was mostly a plot of dead trees. The dirt was so dry and hard-packed that not even weeds would grow. I didn’t have the vaguest notion what having a garden entailed, but I wanted one, one that would be like another realm. So I hired a friend of artistic sensibilities who was an avid gardener, and together we began to plan the transformation. The first thing we did was cut down the dead trees and chop out what seemed miles and miles of dead tree roots, leaving three trees and a few lilac and quince bushes. One tree was a very tall, sparsely leaved sycamore right next to a sickly pine tree, each sapping the other’s strength. The third tree was an enormous deodora cedar with two identical tops, equally dead and orangey-brown, that stood out garishly from the rest of the tree, which was a lush green. We chopped down the sickly pine, topped the sycamore, cleared out the deadwood, and topped the deodora and strategically planted various fast-growing trees to camouflage it. Then we put in a computerized watering system and proceed to water the earth to soften it and prepare it for landscaping. Meanwhile, we sank a pond with a waterfall, built a stone retaining wall, a flagstone patio with a trellis, a grape arbor, and began to build the gazebo. Pile and piles of large stones had been dumped in the yard to be used later in landscaping. I was not prepared for what happened next. First, an invasion of toads moved in and decided to breed in the pond, hundreds of them, which made thousands of offspring. There were toads everywhere. Then a most beautiful profusion of wild flowers sprang up, and as each wave of color would die away, another would take its place, the most lovely of which was a field of lowly petunias that had gone to seed and had returned to their original state – not the intensely colored, foot-high versions one finds in nurseries, but two-foot high ones loaded with white and violet blossoms with a fragrance that rivaled the lilacs. Plants started growing through the crevices in the rocks, things which at the time I had no idea what they were, and before I knew it a jungle had emerged and begun to attract wildlife, including a raccoon, an occasional duck, and a flicker which kept pecking holes in the bat-house. Large swallowtail butterflies fluttered among the flowers, and all of a sudden it seemed a crime to landscape against it, but landscape we did, slowly and carefully, keeping as much wildness as we could. We planted all kinds of fruit, as well as every herb and spice that would grow, and randomly placed vegetables, and somehow a balance was achieved, beautiful, fragrant, practical, with four complete seasons, still attracting wildlife. The sycamore tree is now a full towering giant, and the deodora has grown out into an interesting shape with a charming rock garden off to the side, and the young trees have grown. People often comment that walking in my garden is like walking into another world. I have successfully created my sanctuary, and new surprises abound from it all the time.