Through the Garden Gate

There’s a spot of land behind my garden shed where we thought we’d build a modern-day cottage, one final new home to carry us into our later years. This contemporary cottage would have high ceilings, a sorely needed extra bedroom, and a lovely screened porch nestled high in the forest. After removing several dead trees, we now have a better feel for the land. It’s a small parcel with a relatively steep slope, but there’s hardly a flat piece of land in these parts anyway. We could work with this.

The architect and the builder walked the property and, using flags to outline the cottage walls, made sure there was even enough room to build. Then as we waited on the building permit, the reality of packing our belongings and moving everything hit us hard. We came to our senses and realized we had no desire to move even one more inch ever again. So the spot of land remained vacant as it has for the past sixty years.

But all this activity seemed to awaken the land, and we began to believe it could be something beautiful. So, we decided to create an experimental garden, a garden sheltered from puppy Issy and his indiscriminate footsteps that destroy my fledgling seedlings. I dreamed of a cutting garden with enough cut flowers for every room of the house. Or a meadow with tall grasses blowing in the wind. The possibilities are endless.

When we discovered an old stone wall remnant, my curiosity peaked. Something must have been here before. Then a neighbor sent us an old family photograph that shows a motel sitting on this spot of land. Eventually, I found a book that describes how there weren’t enough rooms to accommodate guests visiting the Lake in the late 40s, and individual property owners took it upon themselves to build motels. One such motel was on the land that ultimately became our garden. So now there’s history and potential.

The motel that once occupied our land is in the upper left of this photo.

Our trusted handyman built a gate so we could easily access this spot of land, and I walked into this dream-laden plot to scope out my approach.

It’s a scraggly strip of land. I had hoped for a few plants worth saving; there was not even one. The ground is devoid of anything even closely resembling rich soil. Even weeds won’t grow everywhere. By the time I closed the gate, I had decided it would be easier to build a modern-day cottage on this land than create a garden. So I sent my husband into this great abyss to spread a large bag of wildflower seeds. We imagined a full meadow of flowers would emerge within a few weeks, and we could consider our gardening vision accomplished. They have done no such thing.

Now I would say it is a blessing those wildflowers have not materialized. The challenge is to slow down, sit quietly and see the space for what it is and what it can become. It’s tempting to take the easy way out, but I feel sure the result would not be nearly as beautiful. Half the fun of gardening is dreaming and planning anyway.

Somewhere I’ve read that the gardener is the quintessential optimist. Of course, we all have different journeys and unique perspectives, but we tend to share this common trait of optimism. So stay tuned. I’ll be going through the garden gate quite often, it seems.