Starting to make my garden |

Starting to make my garden

Anna NaeserAspen, CO Colorado

How did I make my garden? First off, I have to tell you that my garden is not mine alone but collaboration between my partner and myself. Without his ideas and energy, his skill in construction, his strong back and willingness to share the garden, it would be an entirely different place. It is also a direct outgrowth of our house.We moved into the house we designed and built in January of 1980. There is a 35-foot grade change from the bottom to the top of our almost one-third-acre lot. It faces south across the Roaring Fork Valley, with a nice view of Light Hill and the peaks of Mount Sopris from the top, so we tucked the house into the slope with the entrance on the ground floor and the main living area with a big deck on the second floor, where the view was. The first landscaping decision involved the driveway: a retaining wall was necessary to prevent it from crumbling down the slope into the street. We had more stones than soil. That first spring, Gerry built an inner timber liner and then began on an outer wall of “local” stone.A photograph, taken from the front door between two porch posts, shows a transit, a swing set straddling the footer boards for the concrete, and beyond them incongruous mounds of gay annual flowers. There is a nice background of leafy green made by existing young box elders down slope from the house. I missed my old garden and wanted something pretty to look at when I came down the stairs, and went in and out of the house so I bought a few six-packs of cerise petunias and seed packets of tall zinnias, pink and white cosmos and golden yellow calendulas. Not expecting much, I sowed the seeds and planted the petunias in groups around the big boulders left scattered by the bulldozers, watering them with a hose and sprinkler. I don’t recall if it was immediately obvious to me that those boulders would be the nucleus of the garden. I do know that I have never again succeeded in growing annual flowers as well as I did that first summer, on that hard, unimproved clay ground laced with construction rubble. It was a start. I recollect vividly how often I would go to look at the glad riot of color in that odd, small flowerbed and, refreshed and restored, return to whatever task I was engaged in.There was no way to avoid getting drenched when snow melted off the roof and gushed and dribbled between deck boards as we made our way to the front door. We hadn’t thought of that. In time the deck was waterproofed like a roof, but that first year, when he wasn’t laying stones on “the great wall,” Gerry worked with pick and shovel to prepare the ground for the concrete slab foundation of the porch that would run the length of the house beneath the deck. The slab was poured within a year, but it was several years more before we paved it with the mellow old bricks Gerry rescued from a job site and five years before we began to terrace the side yard and build steps to the back yard to a planned vegetable garden.In the fall I scattered seeds of 20 different species of flowers over the hillside below the house; only the cosmos, sunflowers, calendulas and a few California poppies germinated the following spring. Some red Darwin hybrid tulips I planted came up and bloomed. Where my first flowerbed had been improvised, I added herbs and vegetables. Squash makes a fast, fabulous groundcover. The raw yard made a wonderful playground, and our daughters learned not to be afraid of getting dirty. Every year I planted more flowers and vegetables, vines and herbs, shrubs and trees, expanding around completed landscape constructions.I’m neither a good enough writer nor a good enough gardener to tell you how to make a garden for yourself – and if I were it would surely take a whole book – but I have definitely made a garden for myself, so there is the authority of my own experience. And where did I start? Right at my front door.Anna gardens with her husband, Gerry, in Basalt. She’d love to hear about your garden. Contact her at

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