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My Perennial Garden (Part I)

September 17, 2010

Off the back of the house, some fifty feet down a gentle incline towards Boyden Lake - nestled among survivors of an old heirloom apple orchard, on the edge of a field - within the remains of a rectangular stone foundation - resides my perennial garden. That it occupies this spot was a well laid plan; the significance of the location, on the other hand - was wholly unexpected.

Growing up on the eastern end of Long Island, there was always a vegetable garden in the back yard. What really got my attention though, were the hollyhocks that proudly sprouted up alongside it and the various annuals (in pots, along paths, in front of shrubs) here and there around the house. Late one summer (I was about 16) I noticed that the most common of annuals in our yard, impatiens, were covered with seed pods.  I felt the urge to pop and spread them - which I did. By the end of the summer little red, purple, white and pink plants were sprouting in new locations, everywhere.  I had always had a fondness for flowers, but this is when I first caught the gardening 'bug'.

The genesis of my current garden began with old photos of our home that revealed a large fieldstone retaining wall spanning the grade out front. This was the handy work of our home's builder, Nathaniel Golding, who among his many talents was an expert stone mason.  When we arrived, only a trace of his impressive structure - its central stone steps - remained.  A sprawling perennial garden had taken its place.  We thought right away, how nice it would be to restore the former distinctive feature. We didn't know that beneath this garden - tumbled down and covered with subsequent layers of dirt - much of Nathaniel's 'wall' remained. Within a few years, my efforts to begin this 'uncovering' process (in front) would spawn a new perennial garden (out back).

In order to excavate the dirt and reveal what might remain of the old wall, a new location was needed for the plants. I picked a spot in the back yard in what seemed an ideal location, inside the fieldstone foundation of an old (now absent) building. A neighbor remembered that a garage had once occupied that location. We even found an old snapshot from the 1960s that verified this recollection.

It was hard to tell where one side of the foundation ended since it was half-covered with supersized piles of dirt. Local town 'civil engineers' are always looking for a place to dump the material they periodically excavate from the sides of the roads to improve drainage. A copious amount had found its way into our back yard, left by the numerous visits of a dump truck. They eventually took the form of many, many large grass and bush covered mounds. All this had seriously and deleteriously altered the landscape. As the budget allowed - it was our plan to correct this situation and restore the original grade.

The first phase of my garden's evolution however was the backbreaking task of uprooting unwanted trees, shrubs and weeds that had taken advantage of inattention and grown up inside the uncovered portion of the old foundation. Once this was accomplished the soil was tested, corrected and turned; then the relocation of the perennials - with the addition of tomatoes and herbs (a Perry born neighbor didn't consider it a 'real' garden unless there was something in it you could eat). It was not ideal, but would 'make do' until we could tackle the 'piles'.

That day arrived several years later, when the same neighbor assured us he could get the job done. Every fall he 'bush hogs' our fields with his tractor. A scoop attachment to the front and an old dump truck (borrowed from his son-in-law) was all that was required. Some of the dirt he took away (for fill around his daughter's new home) and the rest was used to eliminate a large unsafe hole that was the foundation of the farm's original barn (sadly, now long gone).

Once the hard work was done - the foundation fully exposed - the garden fertilized and rototilled - it was time for the best part; designing the layout and choosing the plants. This was a garden that had been twenty years in the making. In the dead of winter I pulled out my huge file of clippings and Gardens Illustrated magazines that I had been collecting (since I first got the 'bug') and began planning for spring.


My Perennial Garden Part 2


click here for more garden photos

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