Yes, I Do Judge Your Yard

Okay, so yes, I do walk the neighborhood, judging the yards. It appears that I’m walking the dog, and truly, Aggie does like her walks, but really? I’m looking for the gardening news.



Aggie’s immediate reaction to the word “walk.”

In today’s gardening news, which included the daily deluge, the couple (two elderly women who have the most adorable house) that I have hereto-fro given the best neighborhood yard award too, blew it. I am so upset. They planted portulaca (Portulaca grandiflora) in the urns that adorn either side of their sidewalk leading up to their perfectly trimmed English style cottage. I was stunned, needless to say. I had just mentioned them to the local architect, whose opinion I sometimes solicit in my inspection of the neighborhood. (We walk at the same time every morning and evening. I’ve corrupted him with my assessments.)

How could they? Portulaca is all, well, plain Jane in the gardening world. Succulent, yes, and they’re trendy, but portulaca is like yesterday’s news, not to mention it rarely blooms nicely–well, maybe in Brazil. It does not belong in this yard, which is clipped boxwoods (so dang cute), hydrangeas, blue mopheads (goes perfect with the white house and black shutters), a small fig tree, guessing Chicago Hardy (very nice touch), Rozanne geranium (a little sick of her but the color is good with the house and it is all season bloom), a small, but extremely tasteful perennial bed (restraining itself from the bloom, bloom, bloom mentality)  near the very healthy hemlock hedge (assuming they treat it systemically and annually) one slightly misplaced Japanese Cedar, which had me worried about the whole place, but in a last second transplant, they moved it to a corner of the yard where it now resides perfectly, and won my heart–until today.

I blame their next door neighbors who have so many children I have simply stopped counting. Those countless children and screaming perennials that fill every corner of the yard, I fear, have influenced them in the worst way. If I didn’t feel sorry for the poor mother of all those redheaded demons, I’d consider making a few suggestions, but she has her hands full. All boys, all out of control. When her husband brought home a puppy, I took her up the street for coffee. She just sobbed and sobbed. I patted her hand and mentioned that I hadn’t married well either. I understood.

At any rate, their yard is overrun with all manner of perennials, and all of it blooming at once–as in now. There is no design, no thought for the garden, just plants everywhere and color screaming from every corner. I literally have to restrain myself when I walk by. I want to start rearranging the garden, imposing some sort of order, or at least weed between the gladiolas and bee balm. The word is haphazard. The very opposite of what a garden should be. I imagine the mother just throwing flower seeds out the window when she has a free second because what else is she going to do?

Another neighbor did the whole “big rock, terraced” landscape thing which is so popular these days. I think they’ll regret it sooner than later. After all, who wants a rock quarry in their front yard?

A brand new house, built Southern Plantation style between a brick rancher and something akin to a double-wide, put down sod, and of course, that’s always where Aggie decides to poop. Because, everyone knows, you can’t hide poop in sod.

One more house, with a Cape Cod style, finally put down mulch recently, to my great relief. Though, I have not made up my mind about an enormous silver maple in their front yard. My thinking is, it needs to go. My understanding is, everyone will have a hissy fit. One does not cut down trees, anymore, even if they are something as worthless as a silver maple. Tree-huggers galore. I lack sentiment in the garden. I’m reasoning that the dang thing has been here over 100 years. Isn’t that long enough? It is ruining the overall garden design, and trust me, I’ve planted more plants than most people have ever seen. That should count for something when it comes to chopping down trees. True?

So, yes, I’ll admit to what people always wonder if I do–judge other people’s yards. Well, obviously, I’m noticing. A polite way, perhaps, of saying judging. But–and here’s the take-away, and why I don’t consider it judging, which has a such negative overtones–I am enamored by it all. I find every begonia or bee balm, every coleus or caladium, every hosta or hydrangea, charming. Observing what is planted in the yard gives a glimpse of the folks’ inside, a small peek into their hearts. And, aside from a poorly placed portulaca, how do you not love that?  .


Walking the City Dog

I walk Aggie a lot. Which is a new thing for me because when I lived at South Turkey Creek, the dogs lived outside. Except Platypus, who got to live inside and sleep on the bed. Here’s Platy dog.


Look at that face. Who can say no to that face? Still, Platy dog is a country dog. She’d be lost in town.

My country dogs, named in order, were Fruit Loops, Big Dog, Platypus and the last to join the family, Bear, were pets in the pet-ish (not to be confused with fetish) sort of way. They came around for their food. They sometimes wanted you to play with or pet them. They always wanted to accompany me on my walks, but I never used a leash. They preferred sleeping outside, and Big Dog only came into the house when she was in her final days (a sad time for all). At night, if the dogs were inside, they were tossed outside. They were all moochers, so first chore when setting the dinner table was to put the dogs outside. When we were out of town, a neighbor feed them, and checked on them. There was none of this fancy boarding stuff. But mostly, the country dogs roamed through creeks and woods, and did a lot of sleeping under the porch. It was their world and they decided how their days were spent (mostly).

Its a different life for the City Dog.

Agapanthus, Aggie for short, sleeps in a crate (almost the size of a small room). She is always on a leash. Even when she goes out to pee. She is walked four times a day, and if it isn’t a busy day or it isn’t raining, she goes to the Flower Market at night when it is all locked up with no customers, and romps around sans leash for an hour or so.

She travels in the car quite a bit. She gets excited when she realizes she is taking the short trip with me to Ingles, my local grocery store.  An outing for her is truly an outing. It means not being inside a crate, inside a room, inside a house.

For about a week, I was taking Aggie to a very large, enclosed playground at the local elementary school. I can’t brag about the playground. Its just mostly a big open area, but Aggie adored it. She could run from fence to fence, jumping over small rocks, stumps or railroad ties, and actually feel free for an hour. I’d unleash her, and say, “Run Aggie, run.” And boy, did she.

A passing walker stopped one evening to watch her run. An elderly gentleman that, it turned out, was the janitor of the school. We stood together, enjoying the sight of her running with pure abandonment, and he said, “Man, that dog was made to run.”

I agreed. Watching Aggie run is like watching my youngest son play soccer. You know he was made, literally designed, for the purpose of playing soccer, and it is joy to watch. Aggie was made to run. Ears back, legs reaching out in front of her. She looks like a Thoroughbred horse running the track. Then the janitor said, “It kills me to say it, but dogs aren’t allowed in here.”

I thought he was kidding until he pointed out the sign I had walked past every night. I was heart-sick because there is no other place for Aggie to run in my small town. The Flower Market is not the same. Too many things obscure Aggie’s ability to flat out run.

So, instead I walk her, and walk and walk and walk her. Early in the morning, late at night. We know all the roads, side roads, small alleys, shortcuts, where the streetlights are and aren’t. We walk and walk and walk. Its my small way of saying, I’m sorry. I didn’t know that cities have ordinances about dogs on leashes. I didn’t think about the number of cars traveling past my house every day that could pose a danger. I didn’t consider the number of hours I’d be at work and you’d be stuck in a crate. It never occurred to me that you would rely on me to pee. City dogs are a new concept for me.

I want to tell her so she understands, I’m so sorry. I didn’t know you were made to run.

Aggie whimpers a lot in her sleep, jerking this way and that, dreaming like dogs do. I imagine she is dreaming of running. I promise her, as I close the crate door for the night, “We’ll be up early girl. We’ll get up early for a long walk.”


Aggie with her favorite and well-chewed duck.