Sunday Opinion: Little Luxuries

An older garden is bound to have problems.  The maples in my tree lawn all have girdling roots that are beyond surgical repair.  Probably maple trees that grow to this size never should have been planted here- sandwiched in between the sidewalk and the street.  I am guessing they were planted forty years ago; at that time, girdling roots were the last thing on anyone’s mind. My city-they have no interest or means to sustain the tree lawns.  The care of these aging and declining trees fall to me.  Poor choices in the landscape can take many years to come home to roost; old gardens with substantial problems squawk like crazy.  The future can show up a lot faster than anyone ever bargained for.  I try very hard to imagine age on my landscape designs.  Will those designs age gracefully and beautifully, or will careless choices prove to be a huge headache years later?  These old and declining maples-there is nothing I can do to help them.  They have been neglected too long.  

 My 16 year old Hicks yews are also in decline-5 have died.  The five that died are 7 feet tall.  This is a very short sentence about a topic that is making me wring my hands.  No one can figure out what is wrong.  They are not getting too much water.  There is no evidence of disease, or insect infestation.  I went so far as to consult a regionally well known arborist and plant disease diagnostician. He tells me he is rarely stumped, but in this case he is stumped. Once he went on to say that my yews were getting old, I raised my eyebrows as high as they would go.  I am sure if you have not seen ancient yews in person, you surely have seen pictures of them in books-hundreds of years old.  Noting the extent of my eyebrow elevation, he quickly abandoned this line of discussion.   It was a luxury to consult him-it was a bigger luxury to just move on beyond him.  Yews tolerate less than perfect conditions quite well.  Almost every house in my neighborhood has at least one, if not some.  The yew hedge across the street from me is in perfect condition.  I have never seen anyone do a thing to them. 

In general, my trees and shrubs are looked after by Westside Forestry; I have a lot of confidence in their ability, and their tenacity.  They cannot figure out what is wrong either.  Tim wanted to dig up a few of the yews-apparently he thinks something going on underground is to blame.  I hope to hear from him tomorrow.  What it takes to look after an aging landscape can be considerable. But I will do what needs doing. One week to the day from today-the garden cruise.  Out my kitchen window, a dirt space of alarming proportions. I have some plans to plant there this week.

The dead yews-I dream about them at night.  I have been fussing and fretting about an alternative to them.  Why would I plant new yews, even if I could afford big ones at enormous cost, in a place where yews decline and die?  What would I substitute for these stalwart evergreens?  I have lots of questions, and not so many answers.  Yes, the majority of the space will be planted with a perennial garden-tomorrow.  I have purchased way too many plants; how will I place them?  You may be laughing by now-as well you should. 

A garden enchants.  A garden is a beautiful place to be, a refuge, a source of satisfaction, a place to entertain friends and family.  Gardening is good for me.  Given more than 30 years of gardening, I am quite sure about this.  Every plant that I am able to grow successfully, greatly endows my life.   If you are able to garden successfully, I am quite sure you will go on to garden again.  Every plant that I have killed-and there are many-teaches me a litlle something.  The yew business will sort itself out.  I only need to be persistent, and ask the right questions.

 The little luxuries are as follows.  My old garden, besides its yew troubles,  needs not much more than a good washing down before this coming weekend’s garden tour.  Tonight, I am washing down every surface.  I have but one bed to plant, and have made peace with the fact that it will look new.  My older garden-I am happy to stand pat with what I have done over the past 16 years.  That said, I want every space to be clean and fresh; I am washing down all of the stone surfaces.   This little job is very satisfying.  I probably will do it again several times before next Sunday.  I will probably put fresh flowers on the table, wash down the driveway, and deadhead my pots.  These little finishing touches before company comes I greatly enjoy.   

My older garden is a headache, but it is, at the same time, it is a luxury I could not do without.  I cannot imagine not having some sort of garden.  My old garden needs not so much from me, really.  For all my angst, it makes me very happy.  Buck and I were in the fountain earlier, cleaning the stone, and cooling off.  Should you not have an older garden, create a new garden. In my opinion, you will be happier, having it now. You will be more than thrilled to have it years from now.  A garden is a luxury well worth the investment.


  1. I love this – very poignant! Gardeners are the best because they love all living things!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Susan-no kidding. However, I am able to squish Japanese beetles without any qualms. Deborah

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