This evening I entertained a small group of women I have known for some years who meet frequently to share a common interest. Among them was Sioux Falls master gardener, Mary Ellen Connelly. She is an unassuming person who writes beautiful prose about plants and the natural world, and I admit, I was a little disappointed to have her view the state of my yard. Although she is the last person to be judgmental in even the smallest way, one still doesn’t want to tread too far off the path of acceptability, and my lawn, as well as the ever charging army of my 2011 weed consortium was obvious. I know her to be an educated naturalist who wouldn’t bat an eye at any weed, but ugly is ugly, and for one reason and other, I’ve not been able to mow my lawn now for almost fourteen days.
Despite my efforts at controlling the situation, sadly documented here over the past few months, things simply got away from me. My two teenage grandsons spent a recent weekend helping me to clear away a thick, thick stand of black nightshade and other noxious weeds from the area that last year, held my strawberry patch, so the view from my back deck wasn’t overwhelming, but the volunteer trees making upward progress in my sedum bed and back lawn was obvious, offset only by some really lovely blooms from a sadly neglected hydrangea malingering near the back gate. Mary Ellen was gracious, finding more positives than I could imagine, and I thank her for the encouragement, for her recognition of my intention. She honestly made me feel happy, as if I didn’t have to rush a thing. I also thank the other women, Sioux Falls writer, Dee Dee Raap, and mystery novelist, Nancy Steedle for their similar kind indulgence, both of whom also have yards far superior to mine!
Along with these women, I have had several opportunities to visit Mary Ellen’s comfortable home, and at this point I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that her yard and mine are miles apart in size and content. Hers is serene, a kind of flowing mix of verdant hues with subtle surprises tucked away in little crannies, areas of shade and sun alternating, dancing arm in arm. I’ve seen bluebells covering a slope there in late April, and so many plants I haven’t a clue of identifying; Mary always gives their names, and as a part of her generous spirit, often offers to share divisions (as do all true gardeners, all farmers; I think she would plant the entire world!). She has trees that are not commonly found, a redbud and black locust, interesting bark and blooms to make one weep. And the wildlife is lush, as well; in fact, if I were to see a heron meandering down the lovely slope that works its way to a gradual kind of low, inverted slow crescendo there, I wouldn’t bat an eye. It has that dream like quality. I know she has worked decades to achieve an uncontrolled perfection, yet she would be the first person to celebrate the out of control, the chaos that nature relishes in providing delightful surprises. It is years and years of hard, love-inspired work; and it is backbreaking work. I know, for I have done it in my own small measure.
My point is that even before her arrival and her soft, encouraging words I had come to an acceptance of my own domestic scene; it was the only way I had, and so acceptance was mandatory. Today was breezy and dry, a lovely, seasonal afternoon, and the tall, uncut grass took on that flowing, quiet movement that along with the quivering aspen and the softly swaying hackberry tree behind my house, combined to create a place quite out of present day; something close to past Septembers found in the country of the place where I grew up, a very long time ago, and in a place very different from South Dakota. But, of course, our memories transport us, and for me, in this untidy yard with my garden failure and weeds out of control, it felt comfortable.
That feeling has carried over. For all of today I had the singular pleasure of looking forward to coming home from work and just puttering in the yard, walking around it, picking a few tomatoes, pulling a handful of weeds. Much like the aging mistress of the lovely old house in the novel, Howard’s End, I am a woman who likes to wander around her home, and that means meandering outdoors, as well.
As we enter the lovely, warm winding down of our 2011 growing time, let us keep in mind that each season holds its own promise. Whether we are small-time home gardeners, or dedicated market shoppers, live in an overgrown split foyer or a sprawling mid-town walkout, our plot is our plot, good undisturbed soil, or a simple pot on a balcony deck. The joy we find from observing it becomes endless.
Come out to the market next weekend and experience the temperate transition from late summer to early autumn, take note of the subtle change in sunlight, and celebrate the season, weeds and all.