December 5, 2010

When We're Gone

I have joined a gardener's book group.  There are 5 of us, all from the same town, all gardeners of a certain age. 

The first book we read was Eleanor Perenyi's classic Green Thoughts.  It is a collection of opinionated essays about plants, trends, garden design, Old World garden history, and general musings on her likes and dislikes in her Connecticut garden.  It was  written in 1981 but is surprisingly fresh after 30 years.  She was already using organic methods then, and she was ordering plants from some of the same sources we're still using today.  You know it speaks to modern readers when you see that a new intro has been written by Michael Pollan. 

Her writing sparkles.  The book is considered a masterpiece of garden writing.  And she was a masterpiece of self education.  She never finished high school, but was fully self taught, with a depth of knowledge of the classics, history and literature that is startling.  She married a Hungarian baron at 19, then fled to the US just before World War II.  She became the editor of Mademoiselle magazine.  She must have been an interesting person to meet.

She died last year at 91 and I wonder what has happened to her garden.  What will happen to any of our gardens after we go?

The book has an old picture of her in her garden:

Her house is on Main Street in Stonington, Connecticut.  It must have been a tiny backyard garden on this little corner lot.  Yet she raised fruit trees, vegetables, flowers, shrubs and trees, and multiple varieties of all of them.  I want to look in the back yard, I want to trespass and see what has happened to it.  I think her son might still own the house, but I'm not sure; in any event, it's private.
from Historic Buildings of Connecticut website
Our second book was Sydney Eddison's Gardening for a Lifetime, by another long time Connecticut gardener.  She writes about modifying the plants and designs of her garden as she got older, and it's a good choice for our little group of five, because, well, as I said, we are gardeners of a certain age.

One day all five of us will have to recognize that when we are gone, someone else will buy our properties, and someone else will tend our gardens, probably changing everything.  Or ignore them and let them go.  Or rip them out.

How do you deal with that?


  1. I love that book. I read it as part of the Modern Library series for Gardening. It was so great I couldn't put it down. What a great idea for a reading group too. I should look around for one of those in my area.

  2. I confess to having driven by my old house to see what the new owners did with the front garden. Not a pleasant experience, I'm afraid. I think we can only hope that the garden attracts gardeners. :)

  3. Sounds like a fun group, probably lots to discuss. I think New England tends to breed a lot of opinionated, not to say crusty gardeners, but they're always interesting characters.

  4. Ficurinia, you could start a garden book group in your area, just invite some friends and start with Grenn Thoughts.

    Garden Ms. S, I actually toured my old house inside when the owners were selling and had an open house!

    Cyndy, ha, that's what I want to be: a "crusty" New England gardener some day!

  5. I belong to two book groups but I havn't been able to get anyone to read garden books. The book I am reading right now is a cookbook for gardeners - and I'm giving away a copy! Come and visit. I love Green Thoughts!

  6. We've had three houses. The first house looks better than we left it...the new owners expanded on our ideas and took them in wonderful directions. The second, not so good - we don't even go by there anymore! I can't imagine my current garden being taken care of by anyone else (or not being taken care of) - my husband occasionally talks about leasing this house and I cringe at the thought!

  7. Pat, that's too bad you can't get your reader friends to take up gardening books.... many of them, like Green Thoughts, are literary, not just 'how to garden" books!

    Cat, it's awfully hard to go back and see what new owners have done to our homes and gardens, even when they've improved on them like your first house.

  8. I tend to skim rather than read gardening books, picking out sections that interest me. But I did read Eddison's "Gardening for a Lifetime." It was a quick read, and being a gardener "of a certain age," too, I was eager to discover her tips for making gardening manageable as I get older.

    I told my husband this fall when I started another large flowerbed that if something happens to me and no one wants to maintain the garden here not to just mow it all down. I told him to contact our Master Gardeners' group and let them know they can come and get free plants. At least then I would know all my "children" would find good homes:)

  9. It is sad when your garden is taken over by someone that will just plow it under and put down lawn. The lady that bought the house next to mine cut down 8 trees when she moved in. It about made me sick and it wasn't even my garden. I felt like she ruined the neighborhood. My Sister bought my previous house and garden. She has expanded my old garden with a veggie garden. She has also replaced some plants but has kept the footprint much the same as I had it. It is fun to go back and visit.

  10. I occasionally drive by my former house. I had trained euonymous vines to cover two unsightly stone pillars with lion's heads on top. Once the vines covered the pillars I trained them to cover the lions' manes and I pruned them so they looked like manes. They were very whimsical and became a local landmark. The next owners did not get the concept and let the vines grow upward, only pruning the sides. They ended up looking like Marge Simpson hair on steroids. I cringe every time I drive by.
    Sounds like Sydney Eddison's book would be a fun one for your group.

  11. Rose, what a creative idea, to leave instructions to distribute your plants to a gardeners' group when you are gone. I like it.

    Lisa, you are so fortunate that a family member is tending your old house and garden.

    Joene, it must really kill you to see your creation so badly maintained... and so silly looking now. Take a stealth picture and post it!

  12. Letting go of a house is such a hard thing to do. Last summer I drove by my old childhood home, it was unrecognizable and did not feel good at all. In the last few years I have left a garden and my mother left her garden. I don't ever want to see either of them ever again. Much better they live on in my head as they were.

  13. Marguerite, and much better our former gardens live on in garden blogs, complete with pictures!

  14. I suspect my gardens will revert to natural woodlands if a non-gardener moves into my place, The paths will disappear, but I think some bulbs, shrubs and trees will survive. I think it may still be pretty, in a wilder way. Maybe someone will wander in there someday and think, there used to be a garden here!

  15. Deborah, it might be fun for a future owner some day to discover the bones of your old garden in the woods.


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