My garden is a sanctuary. It is the product of over 26 years of work: digging, rock-moving, planting, cement-working, land-sculpting, flattening, re-planting, sports-facility making, re-planting, weeding, re-landscaping, raking, cinder moving, weed-cloth stretching, re-planting, terracing, plumbing, watering, pruning, re-planting and all the other little tasks that go into nurturing plants and building a landscape. My dad started it with really only one deciduous tree already existing on the property. It had some Ponderosa Pines, and a lot of grass. With the southern exposure, it had a merciless sun that beat down upon the property and house.
The landscaping began.
My dad made three different volleyball courts in the course of the years, so there are several flat areas that are nearly lawns with a series of hills, paths, and drainage ditches between them and the house. The rolling of the terrain gives a wonderland of paths to wander through. You can go flat or steep, winding or straight. Each of the siblings in my family was in charge of one portion of the yard, so the garden has something of the personality of each person in my family. Over the years, we have added more and more and the yard has slowly become mine. For instance, I built a three step terrace around one volleyball court that is based off the terraces of Le Cinque Terre. The yard has matured to a point that there are true trees and ground-cover. The older, now-mature plants give a feeling of contentment and quiet pride to be able to see the results of so long with these plants and knowing that they will stay as a legacy that could last for thousands of years. There are nooks, patios, platforms, and enclosures that are meant to give a new retreat in many different places in the yard. They change in lighting and shade as the day goes by and each can have its own splendor at a certain time. You can find sun or shade if you want to. It is often a cooler place to be in the shade of my garden than in my non-air-conditioned house. There are places that have a cool breeze or where you can shelter from the winds that rip through the springs. There is a fountain you can even use as a cool tub on the hottest of summer days.
There are over one hundred species of ligneous plants on the property. We have always worked toward the garden plants being self-sufficient. We generally keep plants on a three-year plan in which we water frequently for the first and then wean them off the water as the years go by. Now most plants stand tall and independent. We have concentrated many of those plants on either spring blossoms, or particularly, fall color. Fall on my property is as miraculous as you can find in the desert of Northern Arizona. The various species of plants each have their own sets of colors and transition. There is a unique timing for the colors of each plant and the transition of the colors from green through fall. There are many plants that look like their own fireworks show. Some plants will even vary from year to year in their coloration, so there is always mystery and surprise to every fall.
Walking the yard is a ritual in our family, and we walk the paths to see the growth (even in millimeters) of each plant, the hidden flowers, and the changing seasons. We will wait for the grand show of an evening flower’s first bloom. I personally love to watch thunderstorms in the summer from the platforms (we have built three). You can gaze at the colors of sunset in the sky-windows between trees throughout the property. The clouds come from the southwest with the promise of rain and you can watch them approach with anticipation nearly as eager of the plants that have been waiting for the chance of rain in the desert. Winter brings the disappearance of leaves, but it also brings more sunlight and warmth to the yard to bring us through the frigid months. The ditches and culverts channel the snow melt to plants on the property and eventually off to give some flood control.
There are still parts of the yard that are in their infancy as I slowly re-landscape and develop parts of the yard that have not been developed or that have been taken over by the invasive grass. The new areas give me a puzzle and canvas to work a very unique and challenging form of art. There is the vision and the materials in the plants, soil, and stone, and there is the mystery of how each will grow according to the environment and its own personality. For, plants truly have personalities. They each grow in their own particular ways from the bending maple to the timid datura, to the confident chokecherry and the gnarly pine.
I can spend entire days in my garden relaxing, or more often watering while relaxing. There are always things to do with long pauses of waiting. It is a fluid, viscous environment. I particularly enjoy the seats near the top of the property where you can look out over the yard as you eat breakfast or read a book. Another favorite is the Bristlethrone Court. This is a patio in my garden that had an old tetherball court. Thus, it is circular, and it is surrounded by conifers. There is a seat that is nestled inside the arms of a bristlecone pine and looks out over the rest of the court. It builds a true sense of the fantasy into my yard. There are birds, squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, and even a skunk that live on the property. The birds dart between the branches of the trees and bushes. I live with my back to the woods where there will be deer and elk, ravens and crows, hawks and vultures, and even a coyote that come into the yard. It is living in the correspondence of the fantasy world and a place that I can call my home in the real world.
There are so many ways to enjoy the garden. It is where I find peace of mind. It holds familiarity and wonder for me. It is pride at accomplishment and hope for the future. It is nurturing and being nurtured. It can be lively or quiet. It is comfort in a harsh environment. It is privacy and a place that I can invite friends to. It is entertainment and art. It is the hope and fulfillment of new life in spring. It is the celebration of life in the fall. It is endurance through heat of summer and cold of winter. It is the marriage of nature and humanity. It is life, pure, beautiful, and wondrous.