"Gardens, scholars say, are the first sign of commitment to a community. When people plant corn they are saying, let's stay here. And by their connection to the land, they are connected to one another."
~ Anne Raver
We lost our gorgeous Ohio Buckeye in 2011. The massive tree had previously encompassed our entire front yard, its canopy stretching over six thousand square feet of lawn. The day it was removed, a nearby neighbor, who has lived on the block for nearly three decades, came over to pay his condolences. He commented on how the tree had grown over the years, how it was a mainstay in our East Wheat Ridge community, and how he would miss it. I imagined how the growth of this tree had paralleled the host of changes occurring in our neighborhood, and the tree’s death marked a new beginning on our postage stamp of land. We had lived in Wheat Ridge for four years, and now we were faced with the task of making this plot our own.
Truth be told, I was secretly pleased when the Buckeye perished. We would no longer need to rake up heaps of giant leaves each autumn, and could shed our guilt over shoving nature’s fragrant compost into twenty or more plastic bags year after year. Plus, this southeast-facing patch had been begging for a beautiful garden; I was ready to get my hands into that soil!
Many months of Sunday-morning-grunt-sessions later, our yard was on its way to transformation. One gregarious and naturally inquisitive neighbor came by to chat one day, and then volunteered his rototiller. Together we dislodged hunks of compressed earth that been undisturbed for decades, and drug out roots stretched beneath the surface of the yard. I spoke out loud about my plans for a big dryland garden, and he nodded and chuckled at my grandiosity.
Over the next season, this helpful neighbor and several others became eager onlookers; they appeared to be watching what was happening on our sunny, arid corner. I also observed them taking delight in putzing around in their own yards. Mr. Rototiller created a graceful border around the edge of his front lawn, filling this with new specimens to complement the tried and true roses lining his front walk. Another neighbor generously offered me strawberry plants she had divided, and asked my opinion on ways to revamp her front shade garden. Sunday mornings were a kaffeklatsch where several of us stood at the curb to talk about plans for the day, share ideas, compare gardening notes and run down our respective to-do lists. As we made conversation and each worked on our chosen projects, it seemed like the relationships to each other and to our neighborhood were developing.
Every weekend I visited Southwest Gardens and other nearby nurseries, finding pleasure in chatting with local plantsmen, learning about the characteristics of various grasses, native dryland plants, flowering perennials and herbaceous shrubs, and to enjoy socializing. Returning home, I felt edified and connected, and anchored these good feelings into the earth through the rituals of raking, combing, digging, planting and watering. Crawling around on my hands and knees and sifting through soil with my bare hands were common occurrences in our yard on Sundays. Through these efforts, I was gradually becoming more rooted in myself, in my neighborhood and in my Wheat Ridge community.
In my garden’s third year, I was invited to participate in the Wheat Ridge Garden Tour. By now there were over 250 types of plants established in my garden. I had joined a local chapter of a local plant society, taken several classes at nurseries in the region, read multiple books on the care of native and drought tolerant plants, and made several acquaintances in gardening circles in and around Jefferson County. At least in part due to these efforts, the vast majority of my chosen plants had survived at least a couple of winters, several periods of drought, and even my amateur pruning efforts. What better way to celebrate this victory than to share it with the community at large.
Over 200 garden tourists walked amongst my front yard garden beds that Saturday in mid-July. It was a true joy to observe people appreciating the multitude of shrubs, perennials, rocks, beneficial wasps and bees, butterflies, and varied blooms in the mid-summer garden. With one person after the next, I chatted about the process of building a garden, the plants themselves, and our shared interest in working with the earth in order to cultivate beauty. I learned about other people’s inspiration to garden, and their specific preferences and passions. Over the course of the day, I interacted with more Wheat Ridge residents than I may have met in all my years living here.
The process of envisioning, deconstructing and revamping my own front yard has significantly enhanced my quality of life here in Wheat Ridge. It is my hope that my ongoing creative efforts will rub off on people in my immediate neighborhood and in our community at large so that our collective sense of place will be reinforced, and that our connections to one another will deepen!
By Lucie Kiwimagis
As you may have guessed, Lucie is big into gardening. She’s just as into cooking and even more so, her eleven year old son. As a family therapist who comes from a family of artists, Lucie employs art therapy and other active modalities to work with children with severe behavioral and emotional struggles and their families. Why? She sees relationship as being the primary agent of change in therapy, and in life. You can read more about the ongoing transformation of her yard at her blog Renewed Vision