Lost Gardens


Ever since I was a child, I dreamed of the time when I could garden as my grandfather did, coaxing flowers from seeds and propagating roses under pickle-jar cloches. I had to wait until I completed graduate school to have a bit of ground I could call my own and get on with the job.

My first garden was at our ‘starter’ home. I planted this garden in the only sunny area we had: a four-foot by eight-foot patch of ground surrounding our mailbox. We killed the grass, and I shoe-horned all kinds of wonderful flowers into that space, from the little red Dianthus ‘Rasse Nelken’ with the delicious clove fragrance that I’d always associated with carnations to the majestic, velvety, deep-purple Iris sibirica ‘Caesar’s Brother.’ A favorite neighbor couldn’t resist pinching one of the Dianthus to wear in his buttonhole when he went to church on Sundays. And an unfamiliar woman who happened upon the garden as she drove through the neighborhood asked permission to paint it. Of course, I was happy to have her set up her easel in my driveway!

I lost that garden to a couple who bought our house when the little mailbox garden was at its peak of spring glory. Once they owned the garden, they paid it no attention. When I returned the next year to deliver some papers to the new owners, the mailbox garden was in full bloom as were the species tulips that lined the path to the front door. As one of the new owners opened the door, I exclaimed, “Linda, the tulips are gorgeous!” Her response: “What tulips?” That little garden was simply left to bury itself in weeds. About a decade later, there was one pitiful Siberian iris bloom poking up through the jungle.

Our last garden was at the home we built on six acres of wooded land we had chosen for its garden potential. Eventually, we planted on three of those acres. The area that we cleared for the septic field provided a fertile, sunny area for my perennials, including plenty of those Iris sibirica I love so much. The area that had been cleared by a long-ago fire with its remnants of a tumbled-down chimney from the old homestead was where we installed a tiny pond and some benches for my husband’s bonsai collection. The remaining wooded land was, of course, already a natural garden with dogwoods, wildflowers and the occasional flush of chanterelle mushrooms. There we cleared undergrowth to establish a network of paths and planted many unusual shade-loving herbaceous and woody plants. Seed exchanges, plant distributions at the J.C. Raulston Arboretum in Raleigh, NC, and propagation classes at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh were rich sources for our woodland treasures.

We lost our last garden when we decided it was time to move to a retirement community. The woman who bought our house and garden seemed genuinely interested as we toured the various areas of the garden with her. I promised to visit the next spring to help her learn to identify the less familiar plants. She, in turn, promised that I could then dig some of the fast-spreading primulas and Siberian iris to carry to our new home. When spring came, the garden’s new owner told me she did not want me to visit. It didn’t take long for us to realize that her change of heart was because she was making no effort to maintain the garden. Gradually the weeds overran our last garden, just as they did my first garden.

Sad to say, the people to whom I lost my gardens were apparently attracted by them but blissfully unaware that gardens, like children and pets, require constant love and nurturing. Today, seven years after losing that last garden, I still hope that someone with the soul of a gardener will buy the property and uncover all the treasures that must still be struggling to survive. And twenty-seven years after losing my first garden, I have given up all hope for it.

Photos Show

The perennial garden

The perennial garden

The perennial garden, viewed through a copper arbor at the entrance, May 1, 2004. Siberian irises are the star attraction. Over the years, various vines graced the arbor. A favorite was Ipomoea alba, a night blooming morning glory with 6-inch blossoms that glowed on moonlit nights. [View Additional File Details]

The pond garden

The pond garden

The pond garden, March 28, 2004. In the background, there is a weeping cherry tree in full bloom; in the foreground, the branches of a dogwood appear, just beginning to leaf out. Later in the season, the wooden benches will hold bonsai trees that overwinter in a small greenhouse. [View Additional File Details]

<p>Japanese cobra lily, <em>Arisaema sikokianum</em></p>

Japanese cobra lily, Arisaema sikokianum

Woodland garden: Japanese cobra lily April 12, 2006. These rare beauties, Arisaema sikokianum, are only two of a large patch growing in an open area of the woodland garden. [View Additional File Details]

Bear's Breeches, <em>Acanathus mollis</em>

Bear's Breeches, Acanathus mollis

Woodland garden: Bear's Breeches June 6, 2004. This little patch of Acanathus mollis puts up with sun or part shade, so we had it at the edge of the woods. [View Additional File Details]

Japanese roof iris, <em>Iris tectorum</em>

Japanese roof iris, Iris tectorum

Woodland garden: Japanese roof iris, April 12, 2006.These iris, Iris tectorum, bloom alongside a woodland path. [View Additional File Details]

Cite this Page

DonnaM, “Lost Gardens,” Community of Gardens, accessed March 4, 2024, https:/​/​communityofgardens.​si.​edu/​items/​show/​12118.​
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