A Bit of Earth

It’s not a grand estate, but it’s ours.

“Might I,” quavered Mary, “might I have a bit of earth?” [...]

“Earth!” he repeated. “What do you mean?”

“To plant seeds in — to make things grow — to see them come alive,” Mary faltered.

—from The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett


For seven years as a renter, I had to ask, too.

“Can I dig in the dirt? Do you mind if I grow things here?”

It worked in my favor that small-town landlords who rent out old houses tend to approve when tenants offer to spruce up their property. Granted permission, I planted conservatively with only a few oddly placed tomato plants hinting at the unconventional gardenscapes in my mind.

Then we bought a house. And the house came with a neat and tidy yard of grass and scrubby foundation plantings, a handful of daffodil clumps, a couple sun-starved rose bushes, a runaway patch of lily-of-the-valley, prolific Nandina domestica, and a few well-placed trees.

“Let’s plant things,” I said.

“Just show me where to dig,” answered my husband, the self-appointed Chief Shovel Wielder.

It started small. Out came the evergreen bushes. In went a couple of tiny curb-side garden beds. Wielding flats of flowers, bulbs, and seeds, it didn’t take long to fill them.

“Let’s get rid of some of this grass,” I suggested. “It’s boring and we have to mow it.”

Together, we carved up the front yard.

This attracted far more attention than we had expected. People walking down the street called out encouragement and asked questions. Neighbors offered compliments and advice, mixed with occasional raised eyebrows.

Our 90-year-old next-door neighbor wandered over to our driveway and told us about crops he’d farmed and gardens he’d planted before waving us back to our digging. “Don’t let me stop you. I love watching other people work.”

In the past three years, we’ve given him lots to love.

The Nandina’s been wrestled out of the ground and the rose bushes moved to full sun. There’s a vegetable garden out back and far less lawn in the front. Strawberry plants are tucked in among the flowers, and rosemary is being auditioned for the role of a hedgerow. When someone admires a plant, we share a cutting or a root.

Strolling arm in arm, we take garden tours on our third-of-an-acre. It’s not a grand estate, but it’s our bit of earth.

“Do you know what I was thinking?” I venture as we survey the largely untouched north side of the house.

The Chief Shovel Wielder smiles. “Just show me where to dig.”

Article © 2013 by Annie Woodall