You Really Can’t

In my heart, I knew better than to do this-but today, I went back anyway.  My first garden, and the 5 acres of property that came with it was my home and passion for 15 years.  I sold it, and left it, in good order.  Even the house was eminently liveable.  The people who bought the property-I knew they had plans to build a new house.  My offer at the closing to provide photographs of the gardens-they were not interested.  My interests are my interests-I have no real need to convince other people to treasure what I do-they do, or they don’t. But I went back today, as I have written posts about my first garden-I thought I would end that series with good news. But as I drove up my street, I had a clear view of my cedar clad ranch, and the building going on behind it-not so swell, this first view.  Today’s visit was not my first.  I have been back maybe 5 times over the past 15 years.  What I saw today was not so much different than I saw 15 years ago.  I was expecting a home in place, and a beautiful landscape to go with.  Not so.  But anyone who gardens has a big dose of hope lodged firmly in their DNA.  I am no different.     

A good bit of the property was covered in dirt piles, piles of concrete, dumpsters, trucks and erosion fencing.  This comes with building a new house-but this new house has been under construction for most of the 15 years since I sold it.  I see trees struggling to survive, given the years that piles of excavated soil have been heaped over their roots.  Like those trees, I am struggling to understand what the big idea is here.  

Mountains of excavated soil sit in the orchard meadow.  This is not a good look.  The ancient junipers that lined the drive-they were never so gorgeous.  But they were old, and sculptural-they had green, in the round. They have not been treated kindly.  Limbed up and one-sided as they are now, I feel guilty that I ever left their care to someone else.  

The view down the drive-none of the gardens around the house appear to have survived.  My little existing house is dwarfed by a giant, yet unfinished house sitting behind it.  My prized peony collection was rooted out and cast off to make way for that house.  How this property has been treated-I do not admire what I saw today. The wild garden-maybe it survives, as many of the plants are native.  The ancient almost record breaking ash is intact, and dead.  I vastly prefer my pictures, and my memories of the time when I happily gardened all over this piece of land.  I learned so much, stewarding this big piece of land.  What I saw today-I am at a loss to put that into words.  The truth of the matter-you really can’t go home.


  1. I’m so sorry. I can’t imagine how heartbroken I would be if I one day returned to this house and garden and found a similar sight. What a tragedy.

  2. In the mid eighties we bought an old stone farmhouse with farm buildings around a courtyard. We discovered the original cobblestones under 40 years of muck and manure in the courtyard. It took days to clean them up and expose them. I planted climbing roses up the old stone walls and spreading rock plants such as Helianthemum in spots where the cobbles were missing. When we had to sell the house, the new owners ripped up the cobblestones and put down red pavers, dug out the roses and installed a fake waterfall and pond in one corner. They continued the red pavers over many of the perennial borders around the house. They also cut down the 100 year old orchard, which was a cloud of apple blossoms in spring, and the two largest trees on the property. In the conservatory, which I filled with Plumbago, Jasmine, huge pots of Oriental Lilies, Begonias, Salpiglossis and Pelargoniums, there were no living plants and the original quarry tiles were covered over with indoor/outdoor carpeting. I am still heartbroken 24 years later.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Suzanne, your story is heartrending-I am so sorry. Your garden sounds lovely-I wish I could have seen it. Deborah

  3. How heart breaking! I cannot imagine how you felt. I wanted to cry just hearing that the peonies were gone…let alone the rest of your beautiful garden. Luckily, you leave a beautiful wake as you move through life. And the people that get to visit the Detroit Garden Works and see the beautiful photos of your work reap the rewards.

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