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Yard of Extremes

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My gardening obsession came from my grandfather, who had such a green thumb that his horticultural skills to bought my grandmother a beautiful mansion in Mamaroneck, New York.  As a child I grew everything from alyssum to zinnias.


When my husband and I moved into our first house, I was stumped. The three-quarter acre property was a mass of tangled vines and weeds. Alder and willow saplings grew so thickly that I had to squeeze through them. Wild blackberries and invasive white morning glories choked the ground. 


As a water collection area, ours was a yard of extremes. The front yard received blazing sun while the back was shady woodland. I dove into the daunting task of transforming our messy, mucky designated wildlife sanctuary into a human sanctuary as well.


I soon found buried treasures. A five-in-one pear tree hid beneath a tangle of morning glories. A mountain laurel emerged from beneath clumps of buttercups. A weeping cypress hid beneath a maze of blackberries. The transformation was tricky since my yard is a sensitive environmental area. I needed to remove the choking plants without destroying the natural habitat.


Like an artist, I sculpted, gradually unveiling the land’s soul. I learned that beautiful yellow irises grew in the boggy spots and that azaleas, heuchera and bleeding heart loved the shade. Sedum and hebe enjoyed the heat of the front yard. I removed the small alder saplings to create walking space and pruned the long, whiplike willow shoots to give the mallard ducks a swimming place. I left the white honeysuckle, foxglove, salmon berries and native white trillium.


Gradually I cleared enough space to plant some of my favorite flowers. Lavender and tulips grew well along the fence, but roses languished in the spot I chose for them beside the front door. As I dug blackberry roots from the back of the property, I noticed how fertile and soft the ground was. Except for a few snags that pleated, downy and Northern flicker woodpeckers enjoyed, the space was open.


I created a simple gravel path and lined it with roses, strawberries and baby’s breath.  I learned that campanula and Asiatic lilies were tough enough to withstand the hot spots. As the gardens began to thrive, I saw the hidden blessing in this difficult parcel of land. Instead of a dizzying maze, I’d embraced diversity.


My yard taught me about dozens of plants that I’d never grown before. 


Slowly, the backbreaking work became a rhythm of pruning, weeding and planting. Within five years I had woodland areas, water gardens, a lovely rose garden, an herb garden, a fruit orchard and more than a dozen flower beds. The mixture of native and cultivated plants attracted dozens of species of birds, hundreds of frogs and brightly colored dragonflies.


My garden is no longer a source of endless work. It’s my private sanctuary—a wonderland where I discover treasures every day. 


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