How tending my ‘bit of earth’ helps me put down roots

 

Douglas' rifle-totin', bucket-headed scarecrow  keeps watch over the vegetable garden in this photo from last summer. Looks like it's about time to mow...

Douglas’ rifle-totin’, bucket-headed scarecrow keeps watch over the vegetable garden in this photo from last summer. Looks like it’s about time to mow…

I’m not any great green thumb, but at this time of year I’m ready to bolt out the door with my gardening gloves and digging tools. I try to steer clear of flowers, but I am an enthusiastic, if not exactly disciplined, vegetable gardener. And I positively love to mow — unless the conditions are hot, humid, hilly or buggy.

At my former home in Orono, where I lived for almost 15 years, I maintained an unruly perennial bed, a small vegetable garden and a flat, shady front and back lawn that took about a half-hour to trim with a push-mower. It was a good bit of work and, though I was inconsistent in my attentions, I loved tending to this little patch of earth.

(M)Alice is 15 years old and likes to sit quietly under the lilac and smell the forget-me-nots.

(M)Alice is 15 years old and likes to sit quietly under the lilac and smell the forget-me-nots.

In May 2012, I left Orono and moved to Mount Desert Island for a new job. I found a cheap summer rental in Pretty Marsh, and in the fall, I moved across the island to a little house in Otter Creek. They were both great places to live — the names of the villages alone charmed me — but neither offered the opportunity to garden. I didn’t realize how much I missed it until the following spring, when Douglas asked if I’d be willing to help get the season underway at his place.

I was delighted and touched. I felt like Mary Lennox in “The Secret Garden,” reveling in her “bit of earth.” I attended to the neglected flower bed along the front of the house and the struggling herb-and-rose garden by the back door, both planted and loved by Douglas’ late wife, Janet. I helped him plant the vegetable patch near the top of the hill with pole beans, onions, heirloom tomatoes, Delicata squash and sunflowers. Together, we reclaimed the big asparagus bed, carefully pulling out the encroaching grasses and weeds to expose the tender spears peeping through the sandy soil.

Here, (M)Alice demonstrates how punky the old railroad ties are. Our tiger cat, Madeleine, is in the background.

Here, (M)Alice demonstrates how punky the old railroad ties are. Our tiger cat, Madeleine, is in the background.

In a particularly artful, Tom Sawyer moment, Douglas expressed some doubt as to my ability to manage the bright green garden tractor, an essential tool for maintaining the 2 acres of lawn and field surrounding the house.

“Oh, really?” I asked, slightly offended and rising to the bait.  Soon, the riding mower was, mostly, mine to commandeer. Did I mention that I love to mow?

Since then, the springtime rituals of gardening and landscaping have been a joy to share. Neither of us is an expert, but we look forward to the season and complement each other well, enjoying the satisfactions of nurturing and stewarding our little bit of the planet. And it pleases me to invest my time, energy and creativity in this lovely home I now share with Douglas. We were married last September.  

This spring, we decided to replace the funky old wall that holds the asparagus bed on the hillside. It was built about 40 years ago, we suspect, of discarded railroad ties from the track that runs behind the house. On a hot day, the acrid smell of creosote was still present, even though the timbers were rotten and crumbling and starting to slide down toward the road.

Here's the asparagus bed and the rotting railroad-tie wall that contained it.

Here’s the asparagus bed and the rotting railroad-tie wall that contained it.

We looked into having the wall torn out and replaced by a professional, but it was too pricey for our modest budget. So instead, Douglas ordered up a bunch of new landscape timbers and some hardware. We watched a six-minute video from “This Old House” on building a timber wall.

And last weekend, the two of us hitched up our jeans, pulled that old wall apart and built the new one. Just like that.

And here's the new wall we built last weekend.  Sweet, no?

And here’s the new wall we built last weekend. Sweet, no?

It wasn’t quite that simple, of course — it took a lot of grunting and sweating, digging and lifting, measuring and adjusting. The new wall is a huge improvement, but if you look closely you can see it is, shockingly, not precisely perfect. It was a tough, dirty job, but a very satisfying one, and a solid, collaborative contribution to the future of this handsome property — and to our future together.

Read more of Meg Haskell at http://livingitforward.bangordailynews.com/.

 

Meg Haskell

About Meg Haskell

Meg Haskell is a curious second-career journalist with two grown sons, a background in health care and a penchant for new experiences. She lives in Stockton Springs. Email her at mhaskell@bangordailynews.com.