I am having dinner tonight with the Baumgartners; I have designed and landscaped for them for 25 years. They have sold their house, and are moving out east to be near their children. Their new home will on the fourth floor-so no landscape responsibilities. A small balcony terrace will certainly not provide them with much of a garden. But what people need in their lives changes with circumstance. Though they will miss the house and garden they lived in, and enjoyed for so many years, it is time for something else. The extent to which they loved their place is exactly the extent to which it is proving difficult for them to let go. I have them nearby another 2 months-the time it will take to get their new place ready for them.
I have talked on the phone with the new owner; though she seemed to have a genuine appreciation for all that came with that house, I could tell in one instant there was a changing of the guard in progress. I doubt I will ever hear from her again. I regret having to let go of what took so long to accomplish, and so much effort to maintain-and what provided so much interaction between the B’s and I. I also understand that I am pouting about something that has even odds of never happening. The landscape under new stewardship may prosper, and enjoy a good future-who knows?
A month ago or so I was shocked beyond all belief to discover, driving by, that a client had ripped out a landscape of which I was very fond, and replaced it entirely. The shock stayed with me for a few days. The lesson: once the work is done, it no longer belongs to me. The only time that any project belongs to me is while I am designing and making it. I collect books with old plates and prints of gardens. Many of those gardens do not exist any more, except on the page. Sometimes I look at those prints with a magnifying glass, in the hopes they will seem more real. What is very real is my relationship of 25 years with the Baumgartners. That relationship is what really matters here-not the lead pots on the porch, or the katsura tree, or the magnolia now on a par with the upstairs bedroom windows. I hate to give them up worse than giving up the garden-of course. Its just easier to think about the loss of a landscape, than a loss of two good friends.
Another client this week finally lost a gigantic American elm to Dutch elm disease. She had battled the disease tooth and nail for many years. The generous bed of baltic ivy underneath its canopy had taken umpteen flats and more, and many years to establish. She asked me to come and look at the spot; the enormous dirt space looks like a stain. Every vestige of that tree and its ivy is gone. Though we will sod this area for the moment, it is clear something is missing. The old perimeter landscape most definitely looks shaped, and has grown in tandem with something which is no longer there. It will not be easy to design what should be now.
Beginnings and endings are an ordinary part of every landscape. Everything has a lifespan. My neighborhood is in excess of eighty years old now. The big maples in the right of way have been in serious decline since I moved there. Whenever there is a storm with high winds I am afraid to drive the last five blocks home. Sometimes I kill things in a matter of days; I forget to water, or some such thing. Sometimes I let go too easily, or conversely, I wait too long to let go. Though an ordinary thing in a life or landscape, it can be very tough to let go.