A Garden’s Growth

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Part of the garden

My friend, Mary Ann, suggested I write more about the origins of my garden. My first thought was “Oh, no, I want it to be perfect and in bloom, and I don’t have any good pictures of it like that.” I wonder why. Could it be that gardens like everything else in life are never perfect? I revised my thinking. Ego aside, if I wanted to show structure, winter would be best.

My first country garden (in 1990) was a rectangle. It looked like everyone else’s garden space, efficiency with no style. Note: a rectangle isn’t very efficient anyway. Vegetables grown in straight rows don’t produce as much bounty.

Then I subscribed to Kitchen Gardener magazine. From the first issue, I felt like I’d finally met “my people.” People who grew beans up poles, and tried interesting vegetable varieties like Lemon cucumbers and heirloom tomatoes like ‘Cherokee Purple’ or ‘Arkansas Traveler.’ In their vegetable gardens, they had paths, tuteurs, and arbors. For the first time, I saw potagers like those I read about in 19th century literature. My excitement every other month could barely be contained.

You must understand. Everyone I knew who had a vegetable garden grew it solely for provisions. They grew the standard tomatoes, ‘Early Girl,’ for the first part of the season and Burpee’s ‘Big Boy’ or ‘Better Boy’ for their main season crop. They planted ‘Contender’ green beans because they made a lot, and they grew standard yellow squash, the same varieties every year. I was avant garde because I wanted to grow roses along with my vegetables. Although my neighbors didn’t understand my vision, they championed me for planting old garden roses. They hated to see the old girls die out, stationed in cemeteries guarding only the dead.

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The back garden
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HH building the arbor

My favorite issue had an article, “A Kitchen Garden Built from Scratch.” When I saw the cover, I jumped up from my chair, ran across the room to HH, and begged him to create this garden for me. Because I’d quit my job to stay home with our kids, we were broke, so I knew it would need to be built with salvaged materials. After he studied the photographs, he handed the magazine back and said we could build it. And build it we did. This photo, labeled 1998, shows HH setting the second arbor. We traded out work with a welder friend for my first iron arbors, and I remember waiting a long time for them. From the corn behind HH, I don’t think we’d started on the new plan.

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The second part of the back garden

A couple of years after we built the first garden, I ran out of room, and HH added two rectangular beds at the end. We extended the fence. Then, I ran out of room again, so we built a mirror image of the first garden to the west of it and extended the fence again. On either side, there is a diamond in the center with four triangles surrounding it. I have grass paths between the raised beds, and stone paths which cut the diamonds in half. The stone paths were placed there to make the diamond more accessible. At the end of the geometric space, there are four long beds. In order to add some curvature to the space and to divide the rectangular beds, I am creating a curving stone path that connects the beds together visually. When we doubled the size of the garden, I really thought the expansion was finished. What do you think? Can you see a pattern of obsession here?