Requiem for a suburban garden

Recently, my mother moved out of the home she had lived in for about 40 years. It was not a home I had many emotional ties with, except for the fact that my mother and father (and occasionally, my brother) had lived there. My parents moved there when I was attending an upstate university, and as a result, except for a couple of summers and a period of about a year just after I graduated from college, I never really considered it my home.

So when, after a rather prolonged period of showing and bargaining and selling and buying, my mother finally moved out, I felt some sadness — after all, it was associated with my family; my father had loved that house and had died in it; it was where I had stored the remaining souvenirs of my childhood and adolescence. But it wasn’t where I had grown up — that happened in a couple of different housing projects in Brooklyn — and so once the difficult process was over, I thought I was done with it.

I now know that wasn’t true.

When my parents moved into the house, they made some changes to the inside. They totally refurbished the kitchen; they painted and carpeted; they removed a large mirror from over the fireplace and installed two lighting sconces; they cleaned the unused fireplace and turned it back into a wood-burning fireplace.

The garden was a different matter. There was a multitude of things growing in that garden, and my parents kept it, loved it, tended it, and added to it.

The house and part of the garden in November 2014, just before the move. The flagpole is on the left; the tree my brother and father planted is the one with the red leaves; the spruce can be seen just behind the house. None of the foliage in this photo still exists.

The house is located on the back of a corner lot. A huge blue spruce towered over it on the left side; the tree was at least twice as high as the house itself, if not taller, and we had no idea how long it had been growing on that site. It was magnificent. The lowest branches hung outside the dining room window, and my father hung a bird feeder there so he could watch the finches and sparrows (and squirrels) at breakfast. The tree’s needles clogged the drains and the branches had to be constantly cut away from the neighbor’s driveway, but my parents didn’t care.

A smaller tree was next to it; I don’t remember the name, but in the fall it opened large, purple-blue blossoms that I could see outside my bedroom window. One tree near that one died soon after my parents moved in; my brother and father planted another that blossomed white in the fall; it grew and thrived.

On the left side of the front lawn there was a flagpole; my father, who was a veteran of the European campaign in World War II and a determined left-winger, would fly a flag on all appropriate occasions and made sure that it was folded properly and put away in regulation fashion. Around the flagpole, they planted bushes and marigolds and hyacinths and whatever flowers took their fancy that year.

There were vines and bushes out front, bushes lined the entire lawn. There was a rose bush growing against the side of the garage; there were herbs growing in back.

On the right side of the house there was a pear tree which, for the first 20 years or so, grew plentiful and very edible pears; we would stand on the flat roof of the garage and gather as many as we could. A parakeet and my much-loved cat were buried under its branches. After about 20 years, the pear tree caught a disease which it never completely recovered from, although my father nursed it tenderly. It never grew pears again, but we kept it nonetheless.

After my father died, I’d go with my mother every spring to a large gardening store a few miles away and we’d pick out the annuals that would go under the flagpole and in front of the house and on the side, and the herbs that would grow in back. As the years went on, we became less ambitious in how much we planted, but there were always marigolds around the flagpole and herbs in the back.

When we sold the house — to two adult brothers and their older parents — we were told at one point that they planned to remove the huge spruce because they were afraid their parents would trip on the roots. We tried to dissuade them, told them (and this was the truth) that when Sandy hit, my mother’s was the only roof in the area that didn’t suffer any damage, and the roofer said it was probably because the tree had protected the house. But I knew that the lovely tree would probably go.

What I didn’t know was that the entire garden was going to be a sacrifice to our desertion.

Out of curiosity, I drove past the house yesterday. The tree was indeed gone. In fact, everything was gone — the bushes surrounding the garden, the tree with the blue-purple blossoms, the tree my father and brother had planted, the ivy, the bushes, the rose bush…. In fact, the only thing still there was the flagpole; the only thing growing was the pear tree. Which, I suspect, may not be there much longer either.

My parents’ house was never truly my home; I never made friends there and never wanted to live there. I have some good memories there; but I have good memories associated with other places long gone.

But I mourn the garden. It was a lovely and loved place. I hope whatever takes its place is worthy of its memory.

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