Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Front bed in peril

When I was in college, I lived in Bolivia for 6 months. There was no available mid-semester storage, so I had brought most of my earthly possessions: books, clothes, CDs, etc. More stuff accumulated over the course of the 6 months, and as I headed back to college I was burdened with three large duffels, all of which required extra payment for being overweight. When I landed in New Jersey, none of my bags appeared on the baggage claim. My instant reaction was utter and total relief. Nearly everything I owned had disappeared. I wasn't at all sad or regretful. I imagined buying a small amount of new clothes, and slowly replacing my books, burning borrowed CDs. My whole life could be edited, reinvented on a smaller scale. Of course, everything eventually found its way to me a few days later, but for a few days I walked around light as air.

A similar feeling came upon me as we talked to our contractor a few nights ago. Our front porch is being demolished and replaced, and as he sat sketching out the game plan for an expedited job prior to the winter cold, I realized my front garden bed was toast. I looked at him, trying to conceal my hope: "Will all my plants be destroyed?" I asked. He looked uncomfortable. "We'll do our best to not damage them", with the same aspirational tone he had used when he told us the whole porch was to have been finished within two days, a month ago. My husband glared at me and went back to discussing the finer points of permit acquisition. Once again, the baggage had disappeared. I imagined a new bed, prettier, more well arranged, less haphazard.

Right now our front garden bed is a complete mish-mosh, mostly plants orphaned by the previous owner of the house, with two peonies thrown in by us the first year. The one beautiful specimen, a deep magenta rose, succumbed to some blight late last year, and did not bounce back this summer as we had hoped. As we spend most of our time in the backyard and only enter the house by the back door, I always focus my burst of spring and fall gardening energy in the rear of the house. By the time I consider the front, I am tired, and figure I'll just leave well enough alone. Of course, when I approach my house by the street instead of the alley, or when we have friends over who will enter by the front door, I feel sad about how the front yard only enhances the ragamuffin appearance of our home. With our listing porch now hopefully a thing of the past, I expect to feel newly inspired to actually put some thought into the front. It is like losing 20 pounds and going out for a new clothes shop.

If they survive the onslaught of construction, I will keep the peonies, and add more. They look great, even when their flowers are gone, and seem to thrive on total neglect. After that....who knows? While my husband gives me total reign in the back yard, I have a feeling he'll actually care about the choice of plants in the front, so likely I will find a time for us to sit down together and pore through the garden books. Our usual disagreement revolves around color choice. I like whites, pale pinks, delicate yellows. He likes a bolder, hotter color palate. One exception to my color taste is the slim bed edging our front fence: I put in California poppies the first year, and now they self-seed with abandon. I love their delicate foliage and their beautiful cheery colors. Although I'm sure I could plant something more sophisticated, they edge the fence happily with minimal care. And this is one plant that I know will come back no matter how many boots trample on the soil, or how much the bed is disturbed by planks and debris.

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