Sunday Opinion: Letting Go

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.


  1. It’s a sad story. New owners of our previous house dug out all my perennials, rose bushes, etc. Our neighbors wrote me that the house lost its warm appeal and character. But I still have that garden in my memory.

  2. Hi Deb– I nominated you for a Meme award…check out my site to see if you want to claim it…;)
    best, Rochelle

    Oh- and I had a client/friends remove a feature that we were all so excited about but that didn’t look as great in the end as we all imagined…they haven’t told me that they took it out -their property isn’t local to me- but nonetheless, I know it is gone…I can just feel it ad they are are sparing my feelings..this post inspires me to let them know that they don’t have to worry about hurting my feelings, I am all for the best design…and fixing what isn’t working.

  3. It is very sad when something that you have given such blood, sweat and tears too, disappears. The garden that I have now is my third. I cannot bear to drive past my old gardens after hearing that the new owners do not care about them and have ripped them out. I wonder what will happen with my new garden when I am no longer able to care for it. The years that it will take for the hedges and trees to grow can never be replaced.
    Sometimes a beginning is not always the best thing for a garden!
    How can I protect my garden in its future?

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Deborah, you will always have your memories of your garden. Better yet, you will always have the memories of the process of your gardenmaking. Maybe the process is more important than the end result?? In the best of all worlds, some one will take up where you left off-this happens. Very little lasts forever-do not let the ephemeral quality of a garden deter you. The years of the work of it has been very good for me-this I know.

  4. First off, just want to let you know how much I enjoy your blog. The photos/content are good and meaty. I have also enjoyed your retail/professional sites as well – such pretty, pretty “stuff”. I have been lusting after your zuppiera baccelatta container for some time. What would I put in it? Also love the metal work and so on…..

    I also appreciated Sunday’s post. My parent’s house was a great 250 year old colonial on 20 acres. A beautiful, mature “New England” landscape with wonderful copper beech, magnolia, gingko, japanese maple specimns. Great gardens, lawn space etc – always a work in progress. This was where, as a young child, I became a gardener.

    Needless to say the property was sold, the house and most of the land was bulldozed and subdivided. The one lone survivor was a fantastic old copper beech that, the last time I looked, was finally giving up the ghost due to heavy equipment compacting the earth around it. Killer.

    I guess that is the way it goes, enjoy it while you have it – and when you don’t, there are great sites like yours out there to help the fantasy process.

    BTW, don’t you think it is time to open a place out here in the NYC metro area?

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear J, many thanks for your comments-they were reaaly nice. The baccelatta is a one of a kind terra cotta piece from Mital-one of the few places in Italy where the terra cotta is still made by hand; it is a beaut. I would plant it with hens and chicks? a dome of baby tears in shade? A moss oval dome? Thyme or alyssum? Something that would keep the pot the star of the show. It is so hard watching properties be levelled-painful.

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