The First Garden: Part 3

This picture taken from my rock garden in 1987 makes me wonder-how did I manage to work a job and look after all of this? If you can spot that the peony hedge that is running along the drive is infested with quack grass-I coped as best I could.   Keep in mind, you are looking at the front half of the property.  Thank heavens, the back half was wild-I never did get into it much to bring any order to bear-beyond the rows of peonies and Siberian iris, and a giant run for the Newfoundlands.  The back third-groves of poplar trees, and giant old ash trees sporting a groundcover of rosa multiflora, brambles, quack grass and all other manner of tall wild plants.  Those tall wild plants grew over all the trash the previous owners took to the back, and dumped.  But this wild place was home to lots of wildlife I have not seen since moving to the city.  The most precious-the owls.  I rarely ever saw them, but I could hear them. On the opposite side of the drive from the meadow garden, a wild semi-shady place that rewarded me with stands of trillium -once I hauled away the dead trees and brush.  I responded to that cue.  For those of you who live in my area, I spent a few years working for Frances Hughes, at Hughes Gardens.  He specialized in bearded iris, daylilies, and wild flowers.  Any wildflower he sold was dug from his garden-few wildflowers were grown in pots. His stands of double bloodroot were legendary.  So many times I saw him dig a small start, brush the dirt off the roots, and bag the plant for a customer.  Only a few customers were able to persuade him to part with big divisions of his wildflowers. Those clients paid dearly.  My wildflower garden-years in the making. 

I did not make very much money working for Frances-he probably did not make that much either.  No one grows, gardens, and sells plants because they want to-they grow, as they are compelled to grow.  It is as vital an act as taking a breath. I was able to get by, but what I learned from him was worth a fortune.  He would put a start of dodecatheon-shooting star-in my pay envelope at the end of the week.  Or a start of anemone nemerosa.  He introduced me to uvularia-merrybells.  Merry Bells-who would not want that in their garden?  The rare and unusual trilliums-he grew them all.  I planted everything, and hovered over these plants like my life depended on it.      

But the greatest gift from Frances were the violets.  Every wildflower he ever potted up in the spring had a violet of some kind attached.  I have read no end of articles about how to eradicate violets-what for?  I thought mine looked great.  The weedy grass areas in my wildflower garden were quickly colonized by violets from Frances.  Some were named cultivars.  Some were random crosses.  But all of the violets seeded far and wide. All of the violets bloomed.   My rough carpet of quack grass and violets-the most beautiful perennial garden I have ever had.  I have few good pictures, just great memories.  

The garden was full of diminuitve species, and ash trees.  The largest, by my measure of the caliper 8′ off the ground, was only 2 inches shy the Michigan record ash tree.  Later in the season, the ferns would carpet the ground.       

Cypripedium pubescens-the yellow ladyslipper orchid-is native to Michigan.  Many variations exist in the wild-my stands of these orchids came from Al Goldner.    Amazingly, Michigan has more native orchid species than any other state, save Florida. My family vacationed in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan when I was a child.  A bouquet of pink lady slippers-Cyprepedium Acaule-that I picked in the woods and brought to my Mom got me a serious spanking.  My Aunt Blanche made it clear-do not ever, ever, pick the wildflowers.  Pink ladyslippers are all but impossible to cultivate in a garden-what they require only nature is able to provide.  I consequently made a point of listening to Blanche.  Cypripedium reginae-though I was young and not so skilled-they grew for me. 

I never cleaned this garden.  I attribute my success with growing wildflowers with my ability to leave them be.  They resent too much housekeeping.  They are not fond of too much fussing.  I would plant, water, and let them be. 

Sometimes I would intervene.  My 5 acre first garden was located fairly far away from any human hub.  But where I lived was rapidly developing. This picture from the back of my pickup-sods of hepatica rescued from a developer’s bulldozer. This drive around, dig, and rescue-on a Sunday morning of course.   Many Sunday mornings, actually. These hepatica had a friendly adoptive home on my property.     

This was a very happy time in my gardening life-my early thirties.  I was enchanted by every plant that came my way.  I gardened early, worked the day, gardened late, and studied by night.  This program suited me just fine.  My Mom photographed me this day, picking chionodoxa for a a vase she brought by.  How pleased I was to send her home with spring flowers from my own yard.  Better yet, the spring impending some odd thirty years later feels much the same.  I am thrilled-spring seems imminent.


  1. marie funk says

    beautiful garden with lots of neat ideas

Leave a Comment