Spring Garden Discoveries & A Brag

Sunday, April 9th, 2017

One of the delights of buying an older house is discovering the surprises planted by previous owners. Like the daffodils, grape hyacinth (the purple flower clusters) and columbine leaves in the photo above, in a flower border now overtaken by lawn. 

I'd guess from the yard's unkempt and overgrown character that no one has done any actual gardening, or pruning, or tending anything except the lawn in this yard for a very long time. Perhaps many decades. And even the lawn isn't in great shape. 

Which means I have the delight of coming to know what may be the original mid-century modern garden plan, much like the way I am coming to know the original mid-century modern house, also neglected for a very long time.

And just as the original details of the house charmed me when I first toured it--Who could not love the vintage kitchen in the photo above, even if it was covered with grime and bad paint?--I am finding the vintage plants appearing in the yard a delight. 

Like the daffodils, grape hyacinth and columbine in the photo at the top of the post.

Or these English irises, which have been untended for so long that their rhizomes have grown into a densely packed mound in the front yard. I spent a couple of hours yesterday cleaning up and starting to weed around them.

This fall I'll carefully dig up and divide the rhizomes, and will likely end up with enough to fill an iris bed about three times the size of this one. Which is fine with me; I'd rather have irises than boring lawn any day!

The shrub above, which I think is an old-fashioned variety of flowering quince, and has been languishing in the shade of a large and sickly honey-locust tree that my arborist removed last month. Now that the shrub is getting sun, I expect it will put on quite a flower-show next spring. 

 

The peony leaves sprouting from a grass-infested triangle by the driveway. I had been contemplating planting a peony bed this fall; now I will, since they're already part of the yard flora. (The red pigment coloring these baby leaves protects their delicate inner cells from both the intense high-elevation sunlight and the cold temperatures that come with spring in the Rocky Mountains, like today's four inches of snow.)

The rhubarb I discovered the other morning when I was surveying the narrow yard off the kitchen as my prospective edible garden. I had ordered rhubarb to plant with asparagus and raspberries, so I was thrilled to find one already in situ--the more the better. 

Yup. Those tiny, tightly crinkled leaves are rhubarb.

Many of these plants are what I call "heritage" garden plants, the kind carried from place to place and traded from gardener to gardener, their roots/tubers/bulbs wrapped in damp cloth to keep them alive. Many are long-lived; individual peony and rhubarb plants, for example, may thrive for a century or more.

The happy surprise of them emerging in my neglected yard is no doubt why my mom's been on my mind more than usual. Mom was my plant-love-companion and garden inspiration: she could grow anything from ornamentals to edibles, as well as wildflowers and other native plants. 

These particular plants are all old friends, familiar from the gardens Mom tended in the house where I grew up. Same with the lilacs and bush honeysuckle that dominate this yard's overgrown hedges. She would have loved the wild chokecherries threading through them too, gifts of visiting birds. 

Mom (Joan Tweit) in the middle between Dad (on the right) and Richard (Cabe) on the left, on a visit to Betty Ford Alpine Gardens in Vail. I must have done a booksigning there, because Richard is holding a box of my books. 

Finding these plants is like having Mom with me, cheering me on as I work to restore both yard and house. (Mom died in 2011, the same year as Richard; April 3rd would have been her 86th birthday.)

It feels like this place was just waiting for me to come home and adopt it. I'm so grateful I could and did. 

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The brag? This week I learned that I'm a finalist for the 2017 Colorado Authors League Awards in not one, but two categories: Essay and Blog. 

It's an honor to be a finalist for these awards juried by professional writers. In my two decades of living in Colorado, I won three CAL Awards; whether or not I win this time, being a finalist is an especially sweet coda to my time in the state. 

Keep your fingers crossed for me. The Awards Banquet is May 5th, and I'll be there for one last celebration of award-worthy writing with my CAL friends and colleagues.