According to some people, every great work of art starts with a vision. But because great works of art are usually the creation of one individual, artists never have to deal with competing visions. And they especially don’t have to deal with deer and husbands that somewhat like grass. Clearly, our property will never be a work of art. But that’s actually for the best, as our yard isn’t going to be hanging sterile in a museum. Rather, it’s part of the living, changing ecosystem of our neighborhood.
As I started planning this year’s garden, we’ve had competing ideas and passionate “discussions” here at Chez Shea. I had been reading Gaia’s Garden, which is about using permaculture to have your yard serve a number of purposes, including growing food, producing useful materials like wood, and providing wildlife habitat. It shows diagrams of ¼ acre yards, about the size of ours, ringed with fruit orchards and lush ferns. Shortly after reading most of Gaia’s Garden, I bought the Edible Front Yard, which tempts readers with full-color, full-page photographs of delicious and pretty fruits and vegetables.
Enthused after absorbing all of this information and all of those lovely photos, I started sketching out what our yard could become. I separated the yard into zones, as Gaia’s Garden suggests, with Zone 1 requiring the most intensive use and care. As such, Zone 1 encompasses our deck and along our shed, where I plan to have an herb box, a grapevine, and the composter. Zone 2, which is semi-intensively cultivated, mainly includes our main garden area and some blueberry bushes. It also included strawberries, artichokes and leeks along the front walkway and a field of lettuce near the side of the house. Currently, we don’t have a Zone 3 or 4, which is an area meant for low intensity cultivation, like growing wood for timber and pasturing. Zone 5 is supposed to be an unmanaged zone – the closest we get to that now is under the big tree that hangs over from the cemetery.
Wrapped up in my grand plans, I showed my diagram to Chris, expecting his reaction to mirror mine. Not so much. He looked at my scribbled piece of paper, raised an eyebrow, and said, “Seriously?” Well, yeah, seriously. Why else would I spent the time sketching this out? Of course, his question was only hypothetical, as he knows I tend to be dead serious about these subjects. We haven’t been together for 10 years without him figuring that one out. After getting a bit huffy about his reaction, I calmed down and listened to what he had to say.
As it turns out, he had some good advice. He pointed out that my “field of lettuce” would essentially be a deer salad bar. As we already get a lot of deer in our yard from the cemetery we’re near, having a portion of the yard that just screams “eat me” might not be a great idea. Similarly, the plants I wanted to place along the walkway are all rather leggy or sprawling plants, that could end up making the walkway look quite messy. I also realized the front yard area where I wanted to rip up the grass and replace it with vegetables is where our neighbor’s kids play. As they currently rip out our grass, putting more delicate food plants there would be a terrible idea.
Through mutual discussion, we decided that we would keep a few pieces of the plan. Of course, we have our main vegetable beds and the grape vine, which Chris wanted in the first place. I relocated the artichokes to the side of the house, where they would be less obvious. We may place a strawberry patch in front of them, as there’s not much grass there anyway. The blueberry bushes are staying, but we’re just starting with one of them to see how it goes. We’ll still have the rain barrels, although I have to install them.
Here’s our final version:
Honestly, I’m not sure why I was so surprised by his reaction and subsequent useful feedback. First, I should know better when I assume he doesn’t care much, as I’ve found out during wedding planning, choosing furniture, and picking curtains. He has opinions about things that many men, including and especially my Dad, couldn’t care all that much about. Secondly, I know that he enjoys gardening and has looked forward to it. When we volunteered in Maine at H.O.M.E., one of his most enjoyable afternoons was taking care of the very large garden there. Lastly, I need to remember that just because I spend more time on something doesn’t make me the end all and be all expert. As a writer, I know this lesson. Even the most talented, dedicated writers have editors – and it makes you a better writer! I just sometimes forget to apply it to the rest of my life.
So we’re figuring it out together now. Now, we just have to figure out where to place that darn blueberry bush…