On the 23rd day, I’m grateful for our yard.
By the time I was born, we still had 33 acres of land from the original 120, the difference having been sold off in crisis sized increments over the decades before I was born. But we didn’t have a yard – not really. We had the part of the land we cut with a lawnmower and the part we cut with the bush-hog and the part that had cows or was the garden. But we didn’t have a “yard”.
My great-aunt had a proper yard – with a fence around it and foundation plantings and all of that. So did the people who owned the grocery store my grandmother had worked at. I remember they had rose bushes in the corner of a giant zoysia lawn, with concrete stepping stones crossing it, going from the driveway to their front door. I had never seen stepping stones before then, and of course every time we went over I would pretend the grass was burning hot lava and I would hop from stone to stone, unscathed.
They also had a huge covered front porch, with a swing on one end, and I dreamed of one day being rich enough to have my own porch swing.
From 1990 until 2013, I lived in places (like apartments) that didn’t have yards, or places where I didn’t have control of the yard (like duplexes). But in 2013, we bought a house. With a yard.
It was just under a 5th of an acre – 50 feet by 150 or so. The front yard was 50×25. I didn’t care – Over the five years we lived there, I turned it into a riotous cottage garden, packed with raspberries, blueberries, peaches, plums, roses, crabapples, black-eyed Susan’s, chickens, irises, and more. And there were concrete stepping stones across the tiny strip of lawn that led from the driveway to our front door.
Sadly, it was really my yard, not ours. Try as she might, Renee never really felt safe in that yard, alone. So while she appreciated it, there was no real sense she enjoyed being in it. She wouldn’t sit on the porch and hang out, for example.
Well, partly it was that she didn’t feel safe – but also we had a neighbor across the street who had poor boundaries. I lived across from him for two years, and never knew his name – he told us to call him “Moose”, and he had the habit of appending the word “Baby” to my name and calling Renee “darlin”.
“Hey, Hugh Baby!” he would shout across the street when I would walk out on the porch to check the mail. He did not have air conditioning, so he would sit on his porch shirtless and in boxer shorts most of the summer, shouting at people driving by and talking to people on his speaker phone. It added that special something to the experience. He would shout across the street – a distance of maybe 75 feet, porch to porch, rather than come over to talk.
One day I was doing something in my yard, and the roses were all abloom and it was just a carnival of color. This must have impressed Moose, because he walked out of his house, saw me, and yelled, “Hugh Baby, you are one green thumb motherfucker!”
Part of mine and Renee’s agreement moving here was that if we were going to disrupt our lives and move literally halfway across the continent, she got to pick the house. When we moved here, the housing cost differential was such that we could afford and bought a much more suburban-sized ranch house, with a large half acre yard on a quiet street, a street where people park in driveways and not on the curb, a street where people walk their dogs and will stop and chat with you as they go by. And most importantly, it’s a yard she feels safe spending time in.
Cottage garden is still my preferred aesthetic, but it takes longer in such a large yard. But it’s coming – there are rose bushes and bottle trees and vine covered arbors and metal folk art in the front yard, including a three-foot-tall metal chicken, and in the spring, daffodils and paper whites and in summer, tons of cosmos and zinnias.
Our fenced in backyard is in process, with a large potager garden going in this winter, and my workshop and the chicken coop and fire pit, and a wildlife border surrounding the whole thing.
It doesn’t have a huge front porch, but last year, I built an arbor and a swing in the shade of our huge magnolia tree. Most afternoons, Renee will sit in the swing and listen to music on her headphones and just enjoy the space. I will often take a break around then, and go out and sit with her, and we will watch the hummingbirds and the butterflies and chat with the people who walk by.
And our neighbors across the street here still yell at me when they see me, but they are six and three and they shout and dance and wave until you notice them and wave back, and how could anyone ever be upset at that?