BY SIRI BARDARSON
April 20, 2016
I have returned to Freeland after a year and a half up in a tiny condo in Oak Harbor. I missed many things about the south end and one of them was my yard in Freeland. Watch what you wish for; I am staring out the living room window at all one and a half acres of it.
I call my yard the “the yard that saved my life.” It functioned as a haven and an escape during trying times. The marriage gone bad, employment re-tooling, re-schooling, late-in-life parenting, I took these issues and their struggles into my yard. I could’ve built beautiful gardens, organized and expert with carefully chosen plantings and color schemes shaped by the seasons to soothe my chaos but, no. My yard wasn’t organized or beautiful.
I slaved in chaos.
My Scandinavian DNA, refined for the sole purpose of the hardship of a Viking voyage or eating pickled herring drove me to weed, ride the mower, prune, dig turf, build dahlia and asparagus beds, raise chickens and transplant trees. Our simple construction-grade rambler with 18-inch beds next to the foundation, (inside the roof overhang so everything was bone dry and dotted with pinched rhodies), was a tabula rasa and the yard became a monster of my own making. But the yard was never beautiful; it was as messy as my emotional state and just as prone to weeds.
To top it off, I was cheap!
I rarely bought a good plant but, instead, I would take cuttings or do some plant rustling from an abandoned house and bring them home and lodge them in the ground. Friends gave me plants, plants that looked terrific in their carefully conceived gardens. I would take these gifts home and most of the time I would just lodge them in to the ground. They stayed there permanently, dying or—finally—I would dump the pot and they would root in. I bought leftover orphans at the end of the season and planted free Arbor Day seedlings anywhere and everywhere. In my yard, there is a bank of orange euphorbia nestled up to pink rhododendrons, a prostrate willow strangled by its proximity to a Korean fir that, in turn, is bullied by a “free” Arbor Day Hawthorn that is growing over the house. At the foot of a lopsided Japanese maple—half of its limbs amputated in an accident prior to my buying it on sale—there are mounds of catmint next to sedums and lavender shrubs in deep shade.
You get the picture and that is just the front of the house.
Gardening was what I did to solve the anxieties of my personal life; the work was like an immense green sweat lodge or a Finnish sauna with sunburn, blisters and nettles playing the part of hot steam and slender birch whips. My intention wasn’t to garden.
I met an Oak Harbor friend for coffee last week and we talked about our yards. I know she is a passionate gardener and I listened to her. I shared what I had discovered returning back to my yard that, honestly, I haven’t worked in for most of a decade.
In the back yard, there are two pine trees, both of which were live Christmas trees my son and I bought. One of them is 35 feet tall now. In my rose garden, I have recovered and moved many of my old roses. There is the Mr. Lincoln, the long-stemmed red rose that won me “Best Rose” at the Island Count Fair. Over by the fence I discovered a row of Shasta daisies that I took from my Swedish grandma’s yard after she died. There is the Audrey Hepburn rose my youngest sister gave my when our son was born. The 40-foot tall Douglas firs around the perimeter of the yard were stolen from the Trillium clear-cut 22 years ago when they were just two feet tall. There is a dog buried under the rosemary bush and another one out by the raspberries.
The lilac bush that is in full bloom right now was once the size of a pencil and lived in a coffee can. When I stuck my shovel into the earth near it, the soil was rich and black. That spot was where a pile of cow manure sat for most of a year after my friend Glen and I unloaded it from his old Suburban while our small children laughed and ate crackers. There is a Yellow Transparent apple tree that I bought at Casey’s in Bayview for $2 and planted in December. Today it is covered with blossoms and its apples make the best pie in the universe. There is a hedge of bearded iris along one end of the house. An old boyfriend ripped the rhizomes wholesale out of the yard of his first house and gave them to me in a leather suitcase.
Mother Nature continues to work on her one goal of “more and improved” in our Whidbey Island location that is rich and green. Over the years, “the yard that saved my life” has changed and so have I. Though not my intention, everything has turned out to be beautiful.
A Northwest native, Siri Bardarson is a writer with an emotional hotline to the vibrant natural beauty of Puget Sound. When not writing about the importance of the wild blackberry, daisies and natural time, she practices her cello a lot and sings at the same time. She loves her Whidbey Island home.
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