Making Your Garden a Very Special Place
by Henry Homeyer
CORNISH FLAT, N.H. – My garden is the place I go in times of sadness, worry or stress. It makes me feel better. I took a few moments one morning recently to really look at what was in my garden to see what made it so special. I saw that in addition to the plants (and who cannot be happy snacking on red raspberries or Sun Gold cherry tomatoes?), in my garden I have many things that remind me of friends, and of good times. Let’s explore my garden, and perhaps you’ll get some inspirations for what to do in yours.
I’ve been working on my gardens for about 40 years and have created some nice stone projects. As a young man I built a low 80-foot stone retaining wall to create a terrace that would allow me to plant some fruit trees – most of my full sun space was near a small stream with a high-water table, which is not good for fruit trees.
I worked with my stepson, Josh Yunger, who was a young teenager at the time. It was fun working with him, finding stones on the property and from a tumbledown wall a neighbor, George Edson, had allowed me to pick through. I knew little about walls but had the basics. One stone over two. We mostly found stones with rounded shapes, not flat stones.
I didn’t know to use crushed stone, not round pebbles, to act as drainage and support for the wall. So, those round stones sitting on round pebbles, over time, moved, and the wall has slipped and fallen in places. But now it is mostly hidden by plants, and its ramshackle appearance doesn’t bother me. I feel good when thinking about the work Josh and I did.
If building a stone wall is too much for you, how about placing a long, thin stone standing vertically as an accent in the garden? I have a few of those, and they look great all year round. Just stand up a 36 to 60- inch long pillar of a stone in a hole 18- to 24-inches deep. Add some loaf-of-bread sized stones in the bottom, and dump in a bag of dry concrete mix. Fill in the rest with soil, and pack it well.
I have three nice Japanese red maples that bring fond memories. Two came from my parent’s home in Connecticut, another from a friend. I dug two them as foot-tall saplings, one bigger. The one I planted in the early 1970s is now 10 feet tall and wide with a six-inch diameter trunk at the base. I see it and often think of the 60-foot tall “mother plant” I climbed as a boy.
Other things are easier than stone projects. I have two nice blue ceramic bird baths. They contrast nicely with the flowers around them, even though birds never bathe there. My wife, Cindy Heath, floats cut flowers in them. (Yes, my longtime partner and I finally got married July 1 in a Zoom wedding attended by loved ones all over.)
I have a lovely high temperature fired urn in the garden, a birthday present from Cindy this year. It makes me happy every time I see it. It has a drainage hole, and the potter, Stephen Proctor of Brattleboro, tells us it can stay outside all year. Always a bit of a worrier, I will bring it inside before Christmas. It’s too nice to risk having it crack.
A new garden this year is just an oval, 7 by 10 feet. I put in a “Y” shaped path, so it looks like a peace sign from the 1960s. One section is dedicated to milkweed plants for the monarch butterflies. The milkweed, I suspect, will eventually take over the entire garden. But for now? I love seeing the peace symbol – it reminds me of my activist youth.
Then there is my 16- by 20-foot barn. I had a barn raising event in the late 1990s and more than 30 friends show up. My late friend Bernice Johnson, then in her eighties, came with a little hammer in her hand. It makes me happy when I think of that day, and that we got the walls up and rafters on in one day. And now Cindy keeps it tidy inside – something I never managed to do.
Speaking of Cindy, this year she decided to build a gravel walkway down that 80-foot terrace I built for fruit trees in the ’90s. She did an amazing job, lining the path with old bricks I had salvaged from chimneys I removed. The path has a crushed stone base, landscape fabric and then a pea stone layer on top. And of course, Cindy has removed the weeds along the sides, and mulched the beds nicely. It makes me happy to walk along it.
I love the perennials I’ve received from friends and from gardeners I have interviewed. I remember every plant given to me, who gave it to me, and often the day I received it. It’s part of what makes my garden so special to me. Now, I tend to add little white plastic tags labeled with that information so it will be available even if I am not always around to provide that information.
I recently saw two Doric-style white wood columns free by the side of the road. I stopped. Garden art? Sure. I was in my old green truck, so I loaded them in and now I have a new project. Not sure how I’ll use them, or where, but they’ll remind me of traveling through Europe back when I was a young man. Gardens are good that way. Mine provide plenty of happy memories.