My son and I bought an old house in a wonderful older neighbourhood back in 1997.
Along with the house came an unmanagable and largely uncared for yard. We had cotoneaster hedges which must have been 50 years old that had gone neglected for the last 10 years, and a 50 foot lot that had been left go.The former owners had had a hot water tub surrounded by a cedar deck in the back yard, and when they removed it I found gravel, and black plastic which appeared impossible to move.
Within a month of moving in I wondered what I had been thinking - a single mom, a 16 year old son, a Sheltie, and a 10 year old cat - and really no money for renovations. With a sinking feeling I surveyed the hedges and backyard.
I hired the friend of a friend, a recently arrived refugee from Bosnia, who with indomitable courage and cheerfulness, and using handheld clippers, as well as my aunt's electric chainsaw managed to cut several feet off the cotoneaster hedge.
Paul, my son and I then proceeded to paint the peeling decks of the house, and do a little sprucing up to the interior of the house . I decided my efforts to the backyard for our first summer would be to control weeds, by pulling, and we also shoveled several yards of yellow clay around the foundation of the house to reduce any possible seepage.
In the years following, my main thrust as far as the yard was this - trim the cotoneaster hedge, and pull weeds. Well, also I planted petunias in the front flower bed, and in the old rotten flower box attached below the front window of the house. I did enjoy the abundance of those pink petunias and their spicy fragrance.
Upon the first week of moving into our old house I met several wonderful neighbours. Several days after moving in I found I'd locked myself out (an old habit). My son had left out of town to visit his Dad, so I would have to phone a locksmith.I knocked on a neighbours's door across the street, and Robert answered, quickly hiding a baggie of what looked to be marijauana.I explained my situation, and used Robert's phone to get a locksmith. Robert told me he felt maybe he should try to climb in a window for me, but I assured him I was fine with the locksmith. So we went out to the front of my house to wait. Unfortunately the locksmith's van hit a motorcyclist just in front of the house, and an ambulance was called. Robert and I and one or two other neighbours watched, as the motorcyclist as helped to walk to the ambulance, and another locksmith was sent out
Robert became a favourite neighbour, often popping by to share the history of the area. I soon learned that my house, was originally owned by Mrs. McNeil, who had moved it to the spot in 1948. One story was that it had been the Flying Club house, others thought it had been a farm house. The general view was that Mrs. McNeil had been a nice older person with a wonderful garden.Connie three doors down had been babysat by Mrs. McNeil, when she was a child in the 1950's. Wilma, a retired school teacher and basketball coach in her 70's, had parked her vintage convertible winters in Mrs. McNeil's garage. Anna and her husband Ernie shared with me that our little neighbourhood had started as a golf course, and they and Mrs. McNeil had been one of the first residents.
I soon met my other neighbours, as Rocky our Sheltie and I took twice daily walks. One of my neighbours would like to call, "I see he's taking you for a walk!". Rocky made fast friends with Wilma, who loved all animals and greeted her canine friends with a treat, and a drink of water. Larry and Elizabeth, an elderly but active couple maintained an impressively manicured yard, but didn't seem bothered in the least by my straggly yard.
Larry and Wilma had been teaching colleagues at the high school behind the lane, and when Wilma died in 2006 he and Elizabeth took on the executors duties. Larry at 86 still walks with his beloved Elizabeth every evening, and they still keep a beautiful yard with the help of neighbours.
Soon Paul, my son graduated from high school and moved to Montreal for university.
I worked on my yard intermittantly doing what felt possible, usually spending hours pulling weeds every weekend.I also worked on the cotoneaster hedge, and using small secateurs, managed to cut the hedge down to the ground.This was a big project, and I worked well past sunset for two weekends, drawing several interested on lookers. One woman said "Well you're really going to town." But it was worth it, as the hedge came up quite nicely after that.
My woeful yard and what to do with it came up in conversations with Mom the summer before she died. I had four weeks off in August, and we visited mornings outside in the courtyard of Mom's nursing home, enjoying the birds, and the lovely beech trees.We laughed, and she empathised, and even wickedly suggested I find a boyfriend good at gardening, and then get rid of him when the work was finished.(This could make a whole other story).
I thought of bachelor buttons, poppies, daisies - and Mom reflectively said "What about sunflowers?".Mom died a sad death in February 2005 - and I'm happy she is now free, although I miss her very much. That summer with time on my hands felt like the time to create my garden. I hired a bobcat to dig out the gravel, black plastic, and countless roots, as well as to remove some spreading lilac bushes from the lane; ordered good earth, had it spread, and planted from seed .I planted oriental poppy seeds (given to me by a daycare parent where I worked); packages of blue and multicoloured bachelor buttons; packages of orange cosmos, as well as purple cosmos; and sunflowers - mainly the tall Russian sunflower.I also divided and moved daisies about, especially along the back lane.
The result was so beautiful! I was in awe, not truly sure if anything would come up, not having a great deal of faith in my gardening abilities.But what splashes of colour! And the butterflies and small birds that were attracted, to my garden were plentiful. I think as well I sparked a lot of interest among my neighbours as people would slow down driving past the back lane, and more people seemed to walk by in the evening, and to stop and talk. Possibly the old time neighbours felt a touch of nostalgia for Mrs. McNeil's time, and this was a small reminder of her garden.
In the fall one hot day my sunflowers were visited by a flock of crows, and this just took my breath away. (I have a love for crows - I love their intelligence, their beauty, their caws) I also left the sunflowers stand through the winter, and enjoyed their beauty in the snow.
Over the next few summers I enjoyed this garden, and how the poppies and bachelor buttons had reseeded themselves, although I had also collected the seeds in the fall, and replanted. I planted several different varieties of sunflowers with beautiful names - Velvet Queen, Autumn Beauty, Evening Beauty, Taiyo, and my favourite the Tall Russian.
This past year I sold and moved from my old house, out from this friendly neighbourhood - and am living in an apartment building. I'll never forget these people who befriended me.
The building in which I now live is a small building with only 6 units, and we are friendly - we operate like a cooperative, taking care of the vacuuming, and laundry room, and the grass in the summer, and shoveling in the winter. Just before fall this year, two owners in the building reshingled the roof over the entrance, and I and another neighbour painted the trellis and woodwork.I have my thoughts on digging up a small plot in the back and planting some sunflowers.