Well Appointed Gardens I Have None


March has been unusually cold and wet. Everything is soggy and weedy. We started on the backyard over the weekend, which meant folding tarps and removing the scrap metal. It now looks less like a squat and more like your average mess/work-in-progress. Paul took out a small dogwood The Sisters had planted in the grass. We will plant another on the street side to compensate. Our fence is staked into the ground with tent poles so that it doesn't fall into the alley. There are large dips in the grass and divots where I have been digging out ancient irises, fennel, and diseased rose bushes. The whole thing needs to be leveled. The boys leave their bikes and scooters and basketballs all over the small patch of grass. We've only been here a year and there are already plastic guys buried in the mud. I yell about it. The usual.

Our Saturdays will soon be eaten up by day long track meets.

The front yard is marginally better. The dogs regularly mark their territory on both the budding rose bushes and vigorous daffodils in the parking strip. Woe to those who decide to pick the flowers and take them home. I cut the Japonica back and cleared out its underside and Paul chopped down the early magnolia that had been planted in the middle of the bed. I am contemplating the soggy straw bed we installed last year and trying to reclaim the other three beds from the knot weed. A neighbor posted about the invasive Lesser Celandine and sure enough! There it was, disguising itself as a buttercup, trying to take hold up our front slope. I am avoiding the nurseries as much as possible. Even so, two raspberry bushes and something for the pots made it home with me two weeks ago already.

I walk by our old house four times a day and peek over the fence to see what's blooming, what their dogs have destroyed, and what is taking over. There are renters in there now (something we had hoped to avoid with the offer we accepted) and they shoved some tomatoes in the too-shady raised bed last summer. Their anemic carcasses are still poking out of the dirt. I contemplate coming back at night and digging up bits and pieces I should have taken with me. And weeding. Good, god people, just weed. It's not that hard. No matter. I bought another "Jude the Obscure" to put behind our ornamental maple. I ordered Dahlias from a catalogue and troll through the feeds of English gardeners and their wild and beautiful border gardens and think about how unreasonable and beautiful they are.

We need a fence for the front. It is not about keeping us in or out, but so I can train things up its railings. I'll be honest. I need a landscaper, too. And someone to show me how to work the watering system we still do not know how to use. Devon came over to advise me on the devil of a slope we've put everything on. She tells me the cucumbers will have to stay in buckets. She is correct, of course. I need a lot of money for most of this work.

This kind of gardening is luxury and necessity all rolled into one. I'm happier after being out there than after doing almost anything else. Truly is happy, too, and I think it is work we can do together. I drag a stump out of a friend's yard to build her a fairy house. (Should've moved the stumps from our old house with us.)


The summers in between college semesters I worked at a small flower farm in the town where I grew up. I was responsible for: tilling the new beds, transplanting, fertilizing, weeding and eventually harvesting the flower. The owners dried most of what they grew and sold it in preserved arrangements from their property in the fall and during the holidays. I painted signs for the end rows, fed the chickens, picked up after the horse, and dutifully answered (lied about?) the questions asked by the provincial monitor who came to interview me every August so that my employers would receive my wage subsidy. I did not want a career in agriculture and I hated catching the chickens and making sure the greenhouse did not overheat. Every summer I would swear I would not have to go back out, but my college let out after everyone else and by the time I returned home all the non-dirty seasonal work was taken. While we waiting for the rows of gomphrena to come in and the nigella to go to seed, I would head out to the gravel dikes along the river to harvest hundreds of bundles of Yarrow, stripped of the leaves and tied with rubber bands. I waded into the swampy shallows on the edge of the farmland for butterfly bush and wildflowers taller than my head. I would stumble upon a tidy grow-op in the trees and snip bits of the marijuana plant to take home in a bouquet.

They would send me along with their friend's children– kids who wanted to make a little money and who mostly complained about the heat or the rain. "This was easier than the berry picking I did when I was your age", I would say. 19 years old and already a grump.


I ask the boys for help only occasionally. They steal my joy by turning the rakes into weapons and complaining about the dirt (when they are not throwing it at each other). 40 years old and still grumpy. Truly is covered in itchy red welts. I wonder if it's the Daphne by the front steps, as it began blooming before anything else.


My friend Blair wrote a beautiful, beautiful book about quilting and using precious fabric. I have a lot of books about quilts and sewing (and gardens) and this is the only kind of book I'm interested in these days: the kind that is written as a love letter to the craft. Blair is a craftsperson and takes that responsibility seriously. Our stories should be woven into the things we make and we should be working to do better, whether we make for money or for love. It is no coincidence that she chose someone we both love, Stephanie Congdon-Barnes, to shoot the photos for the book. Both Blair and Stephanie understand making-as-meditation and that the practice of sewing (or whatever) satisfies something much more important than consumerism. My wedding dress turned quilt is above.

I do not know how my Gardening and Sewing and The Resistance coexist outside of trite and meaningless gestures right now. Skill-building, maybe? Definitely self-care. I do know that I am becoming much more intentional about both acts and where I spend what money we have. There are also people doing the good work of feeding people despite hardship in accessing land, loans, and opportunities: Black Owned Farms and Grocery Stores Oh, and Hey Oregon: you suck at this as usual.


  1. OMG! All my time in the garden is spent weeding, except for the lovelies that I accidently end up bringing home from the native plant store. I’m departing San Francisco for Canada this summer, sadness. I’m driving up via Portland. How can i support y’all and your community? I’m only in town for 3 days.


  2. I just got a hold notice for her book from the library, can’t wait! I am having such extreme garden anxiety this year that it is paralyzing. This is the first year some of my joy has been diminished… but also, it snowed today. So there’s also that.


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