I spent pretty much all of yesterday in my front yard, planting flowers. It’s not much of a garden: a four-foot deep strip of dirt and mulch that follows the length of the house. When we moved in three years ago, it was edged with tacky scalloped bricks and contained two rose bushes and three clumps of ornamental grass. It was hardly inspiring. Add to that the fact that I’d left behind a flower and herb garden in Virginia that I’d tilled and planted myself and tended for almost eight years–well, you get the picture. I’ve felt pretty grim about it.
I’ve never transitioned well. I’m a pack rat at heart. I don’t much like change, though I try to embrace it when it comes unbidden. But adjusting to life in Southern Illinois has been difficult. The Benedicts are not Midwesterners. Despite the fact that the midwest and west have been settled for a couple hundred years, they still feel new compared to West Virginia and the south.
Most of Illinois is extremely flat. We joke that one of the later glaciers that covered Illinois stopped right on top of Carbondale, the closest town to our house and land. The land around our house is as rolling as the area gets, with picturesque hills. If you squint, you can pretend that the clouds beyond the hills are real mountains. We have plenty of trees, too, which adds to the illusion. (Sadly, we have fewer trees after May 8th’s inland hurricane–the piles of limbs we chainsawed were finally cleared yesterday.)
But a sea change has come over us lately. Maybe it’s because Pom is leaving for college a year early, propelling us into almost-empty-nest syndrome. Maybe it’s that we are tired of pouting about the unfamiliar feel of the house and the area. I don’t know.
We’ve done quite a bit of work on the house, but it needs plenty more. I’ve decided to start with the garden. Next week I’m going to expand it into the grass-poor front yard and plant a real herb garden and plenty of sun-hardy perennials. A garden is a commitment. A creation. It’s time. The other thing I’m doing is pruning back the plants that were there when we moved in. The ornamental grass has gone wild. I spent half an hour hacking at the roots of one planting, alternately stabbing it and lifting the root ball with a spade. I also cut back a blooming bush (it had finished blooming for the season), taking off at least four feet of growth and pulling up the leaders that had surrounded it.
Sometimes we have to prune back growth to continue growing. We have to move things and remake them to take ownership of them.
I’ve written one novel and almost finished another in this house. We’re sending a child to college and learning new things about our nine year old, Bengal, every day. We’ve put in a new kitchen and celebrated nine or ten birthdays. We’ve chased a black snake and a hundred mice out of the house and raised a puppy. We already have roots here. It’s time to let them grow deeper.