In a city with a rich culture of urban gardening, Sebastian and his fiancé want to celebrate the work they put into their bit of earth. Unfortunately it RSVPs to their party as “pending”.
We are very lucky in Portland. Almost every house has a modestly-sized backyard. This creates a proud population of urban gardeners. People invite you over for cocktails, meals al fresco, or outdoor parties as soon as the rain takes its annual vacation. As the climate of the Pacific Northwest is especially kind to roses, you see them everywhere. We are home to the International Rose Test Garden.
Here, roses lean elegantly against old residences. Some of their roots are a century old. They flank thresholds in planters or wooden barrels – byproducts of Oregon’s wine industry. They hover above in containers recalling metal feed troughs on the balconies of newly constructed flats.
Some take this rosy dedication a little too far. A former housemate of mine had a summer garden so filled with roses it was impossible to find our dogs. If, like me, you are of modest height, you too could get lost among the thorns. On warm days the scent was so heady it made me dizzy.
My former homes were not quite so green. In Philly there were “cement gardens.” One of my favorite cousins seemed to produce a seemingly endless amount of eggplants, tomatoes and herbs from her 10-by-12-foot yard. One weekend she realized – as her Sunday sauce bubbled – that she’d forgotten to pick herbs for it. “Hurry up!” I called after her as she ran out to pick some. “You’re almost outta thyme!”
Some Portlanders go all out. They invest in tiny, tony farms. Given the sheer scale, many plant what you could call crops. Summer brings neat rows of vegetables. One enterprising gardener even put corn in the narrow bed between their house and front path. I’ve seen nearby chicken coops by the dozen. Some backyards even boast goats.
By contrast, my former housemate detested planting veggies. Why? They took up space from the roses.
However, he tried asparagus. The results, after improper tending, were rather terrifying. Imagine if David Lynch had designed asparagus. The plants were ungainly, several feet tall, and terrifyingly spindly. They had arms that waved at you like a vegetarian nightmare. “Don’t eat me,” they seemed to warn.
When I moved in with my current housemate, I decided to see what I could do with the back garden. I got about as far as mowing the lawn. However, things really got moving when my fiancé Jewell moved in.
After rescuing some items from a property in Washington State, we had a bevy of plants and outdoor seating. We pulled weeds up by hand and felled bamboo. We relocated logs from a concrete slap to under the shed, creating a patio for the grill and dining table. Jen’s girlfriend Wendy and Jewell introduced a fence. (Jen and I contributed by offering food and wine.) This has the added bonus of giving our dog taffy a place to run and bark at the squirrel who teases her from the treetops.
But Jewell couldn’t stop there. He’s Southern, and every fan of Steel Magnolias knows they plant things out of habit. Therefore, one day he announced: “We have to grow some veggies.”
How Did Our Garden Grow?
From where I sit, I can see tomato plants in their cages. Nearby, there are three mounds of cucumbers. Next to them, a raised bed made of leftover fence boards holds herbs, bell peppers, and jalapenos. We’re also expecting radishes, which will soon grace the dandelion salads I harvest from the side garden!
A few feet away we replanted an old-growth rose; she’ll be dormant until next year. But peek a little further and you’ll see the beginnings of sunflowers. In front of them, the zucchini have sprouted alongside yellow squash. And two patches of pumpkins are blossoming because we (like all Portlanders) love Halloween.
“Did we plant too many?” I asked. “Didn’t you say pumpkins grow like crazy?”
“We can sell them,” he said. Which made me laugh, as I imagined us on our front porch next to the Pride flag in straw hats calling, “Pumpkins for sale!” I secretly hope to grow one of those three-hundred pound pumpkins you hear about in state fairs.
Each night, we admire our work, and I feel like Vanessa Redgrave as she wanders around Howards End. Admittedly, we planted a little late and the sun has not had much chance to shine this summer.
Together, we ponder each new shoot – every new flower on the tomato vines, each tiny jalapeño – agrarian pride. We mark their growth in millimeters and hope the sun (when it bothers showing up) will hurry everything along.
The Secret Garden
We planned a party to celebrate both our garden and Bastille Day as I am a Francophile. However, we found that nothing has really grown tall enough to have a proper party. Even the lawn, without its weeds, was still growing in patches. “Like an adolescent’s beard,” Jewell quipped.
Thus, after all the work we put into the garden, we had to indefinitely postpone the event. It felt sad after all the work we put into it. And we’d been so eager to join the ranks of hosts who’d invited us to their elegant garden parties.
But outside as I wrote this morning, I realized something. Yes, the garden is quite lovely. But the real reason I wanted to show it off was because Jewell wanted it for us. We had worked patch of earth together. We turned to an older lady for advice about old-growth roses. I bought him a dwarf sunflower in a pot to enjoy until the sunflowers we planted grow tall.
Today, Jewell is at work, Jen is in the house, and I’m out on the deck. Taffy is curled up at my feet running – surely dreaming of chasing the squirrel who taunts her every afternoon. And I’m realizing that while a party would have been great fun, I’m satisfied with it being our little secret – at least for now.
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Last modified: August 9, 2019