Our yard is full of circles: circular garden beds, free-standing gravel circles with our big blue planters from Dean’s. A circle beneath the Japanese maple in the front lawn, and another circle, more of an oval, in the lower yard underneath two giant elm trees. These latter tree circles were on my List this year and since the elm tree garden didn’t involve moving a ton of sod, it won the lottery and so felt the wrath of my ruthless attention.
Jeeps ringed the trees with stones and filled in with mulch about ten years ago. I ambitiously put in about a thousand Siberian squill bulbs, which did beautifully and probably would have continued to do beautifully had we given the slightest damn about the area. We didn’t. Total blow-off to the point where it became a dumping ground for sticks, dead soil from flower pots, decapitated Barbie dolls, a dozen Littlest Pet Shop figures, and a few magic markers. Bittersweet, the crack dealer of the garden world, knew a good neighborhood when it saw one, and moved in, followed shortly by its two favorite whores, Virginia Creeper and Lamium. “I gotta do something about that bed” I’d think every year, and then just turn to something else. So here it is in all its weedy glory:
Can’t quite get the effect? Move in closer:
Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about. And dig the wagon wheel: Utah or bust.
So I moved in on it with the sole intent of cleaning it up. Yank out the bittersweet, the creeper and the clumps of grass. The lamium could stay as far as I was concerned because it does have pretty purple flowers and is a dependable ground cover for this kind of area. My mom had always talked about her friend Gail’s under-tree garden which boasted a dozen varieties of hosta plants and was the most gorgeous thing. I have no doubt it is the most gorgeous thing, I also have no doubt it would be an open buffet for the deer. No hostas. At most I would move over whatever hellebore seedlings I could find. Maybe. I wasn’t getting emotionally invested in this project. Hell it wasn’t even a project, for crying out loud, it was just cleaning up.
Prudently I divided the oblong bed into sections so I could pace myself. Do this much today, do this much tomorrow. Surprisingly, the weeding out took less time than I expected and over the course of a couple lunch hours raking, and a few evenings after work pulling by hand, it was mostly clear.
As I stepped back and looked at the clean space, the big roots of the elms started to define pathways and places. The elm closest to the house was clearly asking for someone to sit under it. How about a stump seat? I’m always incorporating stumps into my beds and borders, and thanks to Hurricane Sandy, there’s no shortage of them in the woods and along the roads that border my property. And the really lovely thing about them is that they roll. I walked up the road a ways, found a good one, and rolled it on down. Once situated in a flat space between two large roots, I took a seat with my back up against the trunk. This is great! Was there room for another seat? I looked on the other side of the tree. Of course there was! Another large stump got rolled down, and then a smaller one, making three seats in all under the tree.
This curious-looking, half-rotted stump wouldn’t make a good seat, but it was so cool-looking, like a little woodland creature’s house. I put it down at the front edge by the stone ring just to hold onto it, maybe I’d use it in another bed.
I figured that was it, my work here was done. I gathered up the shovels and rakes and loppers. The broken-down wagon wheel I had propped up against the second tree to get it out of the way. Half the spokes were rotted away completely, but the other half plus the hub of the wheel looked intact, and sort of evoked a rising sun. Maybe I could weatherproof and do something with it. Wrestling to move this half-wheel to a safer place, the rusted iron hoop fell down on the ground, right by two of the stump seats. I looked at it. Wait a minute. That’s interesting. A circle inside the circle. It kind of looks like a…a…pool, or something. A pool. Yes. What if I filled it with stones? White marble stones? Would that look weird or would it be cool?
You can see where all this is going. Yes I did fill the hoop with stones and sea glass, and since I was making a focal point, I might as well bring over a few hostas, and since I’m bringing hostas, well, there may as well be painted ferns, too. Next thing you know I’m mugging every other shade garden bed, stealing shamelessly: lily-of-the-valley, hellebore seedlings, forget-me-nots, ferns, sweet woodruff. One trip to a garden center and I came back with variegated Solomon’s Seal and a hosta with bright chartreuse leaves. Another trip to another garden center and I found white bleeding hearts and white foxgloves. In the course of five days, it went from cleanup to a project, and went from being the yard’s eyesore to one of my favorite places.