I used to think that the only kind of gardening worth doing was gardening that produced something worth eating. A noble concept, sure, but also astonishingly arrogant. I look back on the 25-year old me that first picked up a wooden-handled fair-trade shovel and a packet of heirloom organic seeds and think, Good God, woman, where did you get the gal?
The concept is so unbearably hipster. And I don’t know why I thought that. I really don’t. I was just stupid and young, and now I’m older and more settled and I appreciate flower gardens and nice landscaping more than I ever did before and the day Pax died was the kick I needed to pursue all the home landscaping projects I’ve been idly dreaming about for the past year.
So it’s fall and my dog is dead — my dog is dead, my dog is dead, my dog is dead — and I needed something to do with all of my dead dog grief besides drink wine, copious amounts, and binge on VEEP, and eat carbs, so many carbs, including an entire 9×13 pan of brownies (thanks, America’s Test Kitchen!) and a casserole of mac and cheese and the 3″ deep lasagna I whipped up yesterday. Also two Oreo cupcakes from my wonderful coffee shop. And what else? I’m sure there’s more. And I stopped exercising — too tired, and stopped walking — can’t bear the loneliness of it without my dog. It’s a terrible feeling and I understand that it will someday get better even though it feels like it never will. Even though it’s been a month tomorrow and I actually do feel better, in that I’m not crying myself to sleep every single night. But still. I am so deeply sad without Pax.
The day Pax died, I went to the local garden store, which is owned by Jon’s cousin, and bought a Japanese Maple to plant on her grave.
It’s supposed to be low and mounding over time, but we’ll see. I know nothing about these trees except their reputation for being difficult. For months, Jon and I talked about planting trees around the house to make up for the ones our farm guys mistakenly cut down. I wanted Japanese maples, Jon’s convinced they don’t hold up to our local ice storms, but still I wanted one and Pax dying was the perfect cover. There was no way Jon would tell me planting that tree on that grave was a mistake. And, so far, he hasn’t.
The variety is called Crimson Queen. I had no idea that there were even different varieties of Japanese Maples but it turns out there are many. This one is supposed to be low and mounding and relatively fast-growing.
As you can see, our soil is appallingly rocky. It’s also very heavy clay, like bright red clay, and Japanese maples apparently don’t like these conditions. I have no idea if this tree will make it in these conditions. I mixed in good garden soil when I planted the thing but I don’t know if that’s enough. Time will tell. It’s dropped about 50 percent of its leaves (and bore some leaf scorch before I bought it, too) but there are small buds of hope on its branches. I hope. I think.
The same day that I planted the Japanese maple on Pax’s grave I also planted a hydrangea and a few hostas on her favorite laying spot next to the porch. She kept the grass permanently dug up, so the sweeter part of my soul likes to think of it as a garden bed she helped me prepare.
It doesn’t look like much right now but it will eventually. The hostas are doing GREAT, which is incredibly satisfying. They are even blooming! I like to think that Pax had something to do with making that happen.
This is a variety called guacamole, I think. Pretty cute.
I also planted this cool ground cover, chocolate something I think, to fill in the bare dirt between the hostas and the hydrangea over time:
On the other side of the porch, I planted this golden moneywort/creeping Jenny last spring and it has really spread:
That’s a columbine in its midst. Apparently the moneywort is invasive in the right conditions, but it’s pretty well-contained in our shady wet corner and can’t really stand up to the surrounding bermuda grass.
Foundation planting has been my latest obsession. I adore our home but its front side is a bit one-dimensional, so learning how to plant and arrange shrubs and flowers is a fun challenge for me.
This fall, my concerns have been working on foundation plantings around the porch and planting trees and that little island. If I have time I’ll do the southern half of the house this fall, otherwise it’ll have to wait until spring.
Landscape gardening is so new to me, and all of these plants and the growing conditions so unfamiliar, that is truly is like learning a new sort of language. It requires a new way of seeing. You go to the store and pick up an adorable little shrub, like this tiny 8″ barberry bush, and then get it home and realize the tag says it’ll become 4′ wide. Amazing and impossible to imagine, and space, and the patience it requires!
I should add that while I was walking around taking these pictures my giant Maine Coon, “Big Puss” (I know, I know, I hate that word but that’s her name by nature), followed me around everywhereeeee. She has been my right-hand buddy since Pax died. Which is hilarious because she is soooo grumpy and unaffectionate. But she really grieved Pax, like slept for days and cried and kept checking all of her absent places, and then seems to have stepped up to the void, as if to say, “Okay, I really don’t want you to pet me and cuddle me and generally associate with me, but I know that it was Pax’s job to love you and since I loved Pax I’ll have to love you now, too,” and so she does.
Here she is in a rare moment of affection.
But this is what she looks like most of the time:
Like, “God, can we please just get this over with?”
Oh! By the way, see that dark streak on her back legs? It’s a walnut twig. HA HA HA.
Long hair, don’t care:
She really is a beautiful little asshole.
Back to the plants.
On the northwest side of our porch I planted these Henry Sweetspire bushes. They’re supposed to be fragrant in the spring:
I love their size and heft.
Along the front entry I planted this wispy Russian Sage last year. It sort of straggled along all summer and came back this year, but it still hasn’t reached the big lush density of gardening magazines. It looks more like a bad haircut.
Sometimes when I come home and see it there are bedraggled and hungover looking, I just laugh. If it doesn’t fluff up next summer I’ll rip it out. Besides, America’s at odds with Russia right now. Screw the Russians and their sage.
Here’s some of my other stuff: fall window boxes, yarrow, lavender, smoke bush, coneflower/echinachea, a second Japanese maple, a red maple, a redbud, anthony water spirea, tickseed, weigela.
My landscaping island I’m super proud of:
It’s got a bunch of tickseed, salvia, ornamental grasses, and limestone rocks (thanks, Jon!). Plus the crepe myrtle at the end. The salvia has doubled in size since I planted it a month ago. I can’t wait to see how it looks next year.
Seeing that kind of simple progress really makes me understand why people become avid gardeners. I like the steady patience it requires of me, the promise of later reward. And it’s meditative. And it’s healing. I understand why grief forms obsessions, and why so many find therapy in gardening. I get it now. I really do.
Thanks, Pax, for bringing me here.
And Big Puss, for following, in spite of herself.