The scene above is a corner of our lower garden. When I think about the past dozen years, there is so much I would love to re-experience, and I would jump at the chance, were it miraculously given. But there is one thing I don’t think I could ever accomplish again, or even want to attempt: the construction of all the many terraces and steps and planting areas which have formed the basis of our large and very steep hillside garden. We had lived in the house for at least a year before we had so much as opened the gate which leads to the bottom two thirds of the yard, so dense was the wild vegetation which lay below. And it took a year for us to clear that lower area, a year during which I would often close my eyes at night and see not darkness, but bright green blackberry vines; a year when I contracted what the doctor I eventually consulted told me was the worst case of poison oak rash she had ever seen; a year which ended with us hiring a crew of laborers to complete the clearing and haul away the enormous piles of brush which had stood between us and the garden of our dreams. Then came the countless deliveries of lumber and concrete blocks and 50 lb. bags of sand and decorative pavers which made it possible for us to civilize the wasteland, make it accessible for easy visitation and prepare planting spots for the hundreds of wonderful plants to be adopted. I was quite a bit younger then and remember finding it all quite entertaining. But today I would want to skip the arduous work of construction and proceed directly to the adoption of the plants themselves and the placing of each one in its permanent home. Because we had more fun doing all that than I could ever say. I think about those days often.
The square patio shown in the photo is an area that had to be built up about eight feet from its base at the bottom left. A child’s playhouse had stood for decades on the spot, but by the time we arrived it had rotted down to nothing but its foundations, which we then replaced. That’s a variegated rhododendron at bottom center, with a white-flowered cistus in front of it: the adoptions of both these plants, as with all the many others, are connected with very happy and entirely specific memories of their own. Since this picture was taken in July 2009, the tiny Peruvean Cantua buxifolias in the rectangular planter center left have grown so large that today they would entirely obscure your view of the blue porcelain pots, if you were to stand where I did when the picture was taken. The large ice plant which hangs down over the patio eventually died out, and has been replaced by some very happy winter-flowering hellebores. Whenever I go down there, I stand for awhile scratching my head, incredulous that we actually made it happen. But always I’m so glad we did.