Starting Again on the Big Garden

Back in April of 2009, my friend Allen and I were putting in the foundation of the garage for the future house. The land sloped and I asked Allen if he could terrace it so water wouldn’t run into the someday house and I could have a flat backyard. Dragging a stick in the dirt, I paced out a wide curve and Allen began digging. All of the boulders he turned up, plus those from the garage excavation, became part of a long retaining wall.

There were lots of rocks to choose from. Here is Allen in front of a pile.

Allen built the wall between other chores we were working on. Here’s Allen’s wall curving around the finished garage foundation.

I told Allen that someday I would have a flower garden under that wall. But I was always too busy with too many other projects to take it on.

Six years later, in the summer of 2015, to my great grief Allen had died. His son Damon was working for me with his small Bobcat excavator, and as an afterthought I asked him to break ground for Allen’s wall garden.


Unlike his father, Damon does not approve of flowers. However in an hour he had carved the entire 200-foot bed, following a line I had spray-painted on the grass. The surface stones and sods he stacked along the edge. I figured I would haul them away slowly over the summer.

Of course, as usual life rolled over me. I did not haul the sods and stones away — I mowed, mucked deep bedding, spread manure, drove steers to the slaughterhouse, sold sheep, got Lucy off to her first year of college, moved us out of our home of sixteen years into temporary quarters, and started my own school year.

Damon left his excavator at the farm that winter and the following spring, in May of 2016, he and I spent four hours in sultry heat cleaning up the sods and stones, mixing some purchased topsoil with compost, and spreading it down the length of the future garden. Damon’s comments on the stupidity of this exercise were unprintable.

That summer, too, was very busy. I was meeting with a financial planner. I was meeting with the house company and a potential builder. I was struggling to fence the back field. I had a sick gosling I was force-feeding around the clock. I was teaching Lucy to drive and had her impacted wisdom teeth extracted. I hosted parties for DH’s work. I made plans for Jon’s wedding to Amanda. And every time I turned around, weeds were growing up in the future garden.

I put in hours of weeding but I could not seem to get on top of it.

Here is our dog Stash in a forest of lamb’s quarters.

I pulled lamb’s quarters like a machine.

The task seemed interminable. While I was working on one end of the garden, being bitten by deer flies, new weeds would be re-sprouting at the other.

At last, on July 31, I had the entire bed basically clear. What a relief!

Once again I spray-painted a line to mark the garden edge.

My plan was to clean each small section of weeds and rocks, till it with the tiny tiller Allen had given to me, and rake the surface smooth.

Then I would cover each section with newspapers and a mulch of straw. (I had also spent many hours scouring the dump for newspaper, and driving to the Champlain Valley with my horse trailer for bales of straw.)

Unfortunately, I was only able to address about twenty feet of garden before life again swept me away. After all our meetings, my potential house builder quit the day he was supposed to sign the contract. I was in shock.

I drove Lucy to college. I started my school year. I sold sheep and took steers to the slaughterhouse. I mowed the fields. I searched for a new builder. I prepared for Jon and Amanda’s wedding. And the weeds inexorably crept back.

In early October I pulled weeds for a third time and covered the bottom forty feet with black plastic with rocks on top. I had the intention (and the black plastic) to cover the rest, but … in the joy of the wedding and the excitement of the house starting with a new builder, I dropped all thought of gardens.

Zero happened on the gardening front in 2017 — the Summer of the Great Chaos, when I moved us once more, this time into a construction zone that lasted for months.

Yesterday I finally started over. Of course the future “garden” was now a jungle that looked as if it had never been touched.

Builders’ scaffolding still leaned against the boulder wall.

Where to begin? Just to lift my spirits, I dragged away the scaffolding and began with weedwhacking.

By the end of yesterday the jungle was gone and I could see the outlines of the garden again.

Colin has departed for summer camp. DH leaves tomorrow to lead a two-week alumni hiking trip in Switzerland. Lucy is in New Hampshire for another week. Amanda and Ami go with Judy, Amanda’s mother, to Vermont for vacation today and Jon will join them on Wednesday. All my chickens are happy, and for a week I will have no responsibilities to anyone!

I am hoping I can work outside every day and make lasting progress on this project. I know Allen would be smiling. Wouldn’t it be great if I could have a real garden in 2019?

It would be only ten years in the making.


2 Responses to Starting Again on the Big Garden

  1. T Cupp says:

    What a beautiful tribute to your dear friend. Every time you have cleared that garden, you have thought of him. It matters not that the flowers are not yet blooming there. They will in time.

    • adkmilkmaid says:

      Thank you, Tammy. That’s a wonderful way to think about it. My love to you in this trying time in your life.

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