My first gardening catalog came addressed to “Robert S. Jones or Current Resident.” That was me--Current Resident. We’d just made our fourth move in two years in conjunction with my husband’s Naval career. His orders were for twenty-four months. Long enough to plant perennials.
I thought a showed a great deal of restraint when I limited myself to a $500 order. A rainbow of reds, blues and yellows. A variety of curious textures. My home would stand out from the others in this newly-constructed cookie-cutter neighborhood. Okay, so I would eat nothing but macaroni and cheese for two months, but with the Yard of the Month awarded by my neighborhood association came a $50 gift certificate to the hardware store, so it would offset the scales a bit. And based on the glossy pictures of what my gardens would look like, I was a sure winner.
Per the instructions, I should plant my garden as soon as possible. Hmmm. I hadn’t actually thought about that part of it. I’d ordered enough flora to fill three very large areas, all of which were currently sprouting bright green weeds. As any good Navy wife does, I rolled up my sleeves and got to work.
First I outlined the beds with edging bricks, hauled in mini-van loads of 50 a day. That took two weeks. Next step was to loosen the top four inches of soil. After three days of backbreaking work, I broke down and rented a tiller. The dump truck load of topsoil was deposited in the middle of the driveway. I had to borrow my neighbor’s car to run to the hardware store to purchase a wheelbarrow and move the dirt before I could even get my car out. The important lesson here was exactly how much dirt fit into a dump truck, most of which my neighbors ended up using to fill in hole left by his deconstructed swimming pool. Thinking I’d learned my lesson on the soil, I opted for hauling in mulch bag by bag. By bag. By bag. One hundred and seventy-two, if memory serves.
It took over a month, but I celebrated the day I popped the plants into the ground per the paint-by-number instructions. Little tiny specks of plants spaced 12-18 inches apart. It looked like a barren wasteland. To say I was disappointed would be an understatement. My back ached, my legs ached, my hands ached. But most of all, my bank account ached. I was in for over $1,500, once I figured in the cost of repairing the car after I’d run the tiller along its side. I reminded myself it would all be worth it when my husband returned from deployment to find our yard looked like it should be on the cover of Better Homes and Gardens.
That was my very expensive lesson in patience. Having been raised in a well-established mill town, I’d taken flora planted by long-dead ancestors for granted. I had no idea it took fifty years for ivy to climb the brick exteriors, or forsythia bushes to grow as tall as the houses. I expected instant gratification in my gardens. Needless to say, my sparse plantings did not earn me Yard of the Month, let alone any return on my investment.
We moved nine times over the next fourteen years. I never made the mistake of undertaking significant landscaping projects I would never be around long enough to enjoy, but at every place we lived I left some small patch of perennials for a future nomadic tenant to enjoy.
We found ourselves back in the area of our first home and detoured down the street where I’d foolishly invested so much time, energy and money. I cried when I saw it. The big pink peony blooms smiling up at the sunshine took my breath away. Vinca vines had filled in enough to choke out all the weeds and make annual mulching unnecessary, which had been my goal. The gardenia bushes, which had started as one-foot-high twigs, now formed a thick, fragrant hedge. But the thing that caught my eye was a sign right smack dab in the middle of the lush red, white and blue collection--Yard of the Month. That sign was more a testimony to time than to effort.