Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Way This All Started

This flashback contains part of a post I originally wrote back in April of 2010.  I thought it might be fun to revisit this little history tour of the garden here, so I hope you enjoy it. 

Carl and I met when we were fourteen years old and freshmen in high school.  I had gone to public school and he had gone to parochial, but in the ninth grade, both of our schools came together.  We had one class together, 9th Grade Science,  and we were seated alphabetically since our last names both ended in 'V' at the time.  I was a fairly good student, but I only earned a 'D' for a final grade.  I found something way more interesting than Science.   I found Carl. 

The surprising part was, we had grown up less than a mile away from each other as the crow flies, but in what might as well been different worlds, with him being the son of a blacksmith and me being the proverbial farmer's daughter.  I do remember seeing him once about four years before high school when my dad had taken me along to the neighborhood blacksmith to get a hay baler part fixed.  It was a blisteringly hot day and we'd been baling hay all afternoon, that is, until the baler broke down.  Dad was sweating bullets and swearing a blue streak trying to get the part off the machine and when he finally did I was ready.   I quickly snuck a cherry Popsicle out of the freezer and hopped in the truck.  I would take any opportunity to 'go for a ride' when I was a kid; come to think of it, I'm still the same way.  

As Dad drove down our side road, I hung my arm out the window and made my hand go up and down with the wind currents as we drove the two miles to the blacksmith shop.  We had no air conditioning in those days and the wind rushing in the old Ford 150's window was as warm as bathtub water.  Though I knew getting the hay off the field (gotta make hay while the sun shines) was really important, I sure welcomed this break in the work. 

I often went anywhere I could with my father; farm auctions, the feed mill, the run to the local quarry for barn lime, the Sunday afternoon drive where we went to see how everyone else's crops were growing, and even the taverns.  But I was a shy kid, being raised basically as an only child; my brother was 13 years my senior and we had nothing in common.  

I didn't much like other kids and was more than happy just being a tomboy and my father's right-hand man.  I just didn't understand children at all, I may have looked like one, but I sure wasn't raised like one.  Even in school, when I'd be on the playground and the other kids were running around in circles and yelling, I thought they'd lost their minds, and for Heaven's sake, keep your voices down!  My very strict father was of the Old School, 'Children Should be Seen and Not Heard' and did not suffer fools lightly.  And loud-mouthed kids even less. 

While Dad was in Carl's dad's shop getting the part welded, shy me was sitting in the truck observing the blacksmith's sons (and working on the Popsicle, of course).  One of the boys was wearing shorts (I thought, wow, I didn't know boys wore shorts, huh, how silly).  This kid looked to be around my age and was rather reluctantly working on emptying steel from a bucket to a pile.  The process was making a lot of noise.  His dad asked him to please be a little quieter at the job, but he pretended not to hear him and kept on chucking the steel loudly.  I saw my Dad shoot him a very disapproving look, and I thought, "Kid, you're lucky you don't live with my dad, he'd show you who's the boss."

Just at that time, the mom came outside with a pitcher of some cold, refreshing beverage and a platter of watermelon slices.  The boy tossing the metal (Carl) and his brother dropped what they were doing and joined by their two sisters, all gathered under the shade tree in their front yard.  There was a nice picnic table to sit at and it looked like a Norman Rockwell painting.  

I sat in the truck and stared in disbelief.  Well, la-di-dah.  Something like that would never happen at my home, we didn't have the time to sit under shade trees at 3PM and enjoy ourselves on a weekday afternoon!  It appeared one of the boys was showing off, spitting watermelon seeds, how juvenile.  I kept staring until one of them noticed me and then I slithered slowly down the seat until I was huddled in a pile on the floorboards.  Can't have them seeing me being all nosy, I thought.  I'd best finish the second half of this Popsicle.  I did sneak covert glimpses from time to time, feeling rather haughty being a witness to all this fine family togetherness.  

Finally, Dad came back out of the blacksmith shop, dropped the still-glowing baler part in the back of the truck bed and we retraced our path back home.  Just a mile apart, and yet it was like a galaxy.  I was back on the tractor, baling hay in fifteen minutes.  

So, yes, Carl and I did meet again around four years later in high school.   And it was really different then.  For one thing, Carl was wearing long pants.  And I wasn't hiding on the floorboards of the Ford anymore.  We courted for five years and married when we were both 20. 

We needed a place to live. I thought buying a fixer-upper would be a good idea...Carl didn't.  "Let's just build one," he said, like houses and the money to build them grow on trees.  In order to build a house, we needed land.  Dad reluctantly sold us an acre of alfalfa field down the road from Mom & Dad's house.  He hated to part with the land, all farmers do--but it was sandy and in dry years, hard to grow anything on it, so he thought, ok, go ahead, if you must.  We started building.  The gardens came later, but let's start at the beginning.

The picture below was taken in May of 1978.  The gravel driveway in the lower right-hand corner would become the driveway for our house.  
The field before excavation

The construction crew, hard at work, pouring our basement.

We needed some sort of trees around the house, that much was apparent!  Carl's parents had also built a home around the same time we did, and had purchased a few thousand trees.  They offered us 500 mixed evergreen seedlings containing Colorado blue, white and Black Hills spruces and  red, white and Scotch pines.  We planted these trees in 1988 on our then one acre, which expanded to two+ acres in 1990.  They also offered us three Colorado Blue spruce from their old home which were about 3' tall.  These three bigger trees were planted in front of the house.  Mistake #1.

Quoting Michael Dirr from his excellent book, the Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, in regards to Colorado Blue Spruce or (correctly Picea pungens) he states: "Overused; popular as a specimen but hard to combine well with other plants; can be used in groupings; one of the standard practices in past years has been the use of this plant in the front yard where it immediately detracts from the rest of the landscape."

No truer words were ever spoken.  Ok, where was Mr. Dirr's book when we needed it?  ( I see the 5th edition of Dirr's book came out in 1998--years after we committed the botanical faux pas.)

There it is, Little House on the Prairie-ish, not a tree in sight.

My parents had a fair-sized flowering crabapple in their yard which they donated to our treeless cause.  My late father, pictured below, was not a patient man when it came to tree moving.  We had gone to my parents to try and dig the tree by hand without much luck.  While we were eating supper that evening, my father decided to take matters into his own hands and, attaching a chain around the trunk of the tree and one to his tractor's bucket, he yanked the poor crab out by it's roots, effectively scarring the tree trunk, too.  He arrived at our house with the tree dangling from the tractor's bucket, swaying to and fro from a chain with a few roots intact.  Never let it be said that a flowering crab is not a tough tree, because it lived through this!  (The apple is on Dad's left side, the spruce from Carl's parents is in the middle and the birch which Dad dug up from our fenceline is on the right.)
  I fully understand why people plant tiny spruce trees close to the house, I mean, just look at the pretty blue spruce in this next picture.
Ok, a 'bit' enhanced blue spruce!

So, time went on and the trees began to grow.
To add to the mistakes, we planted some elm trees (the one on the left) and allowed a cottonwood (on the right) to grow in the ditch by the driveway, too.  The Town had a real problem with the cottonwood, so we removed it.  It was too close to the road.  The elm, of course, succumbed to Dutch Elm Disease after about 15 years, time which could have been put to use growing a nice specimen oak or something else.  But we were young, broke, and landscaped-challenged and a free tree sounded good, right?  This picture was taken in 1985.

The trees haven't grown too much yet, and it's not all that bad-looking, really.  Now we will fast forward to 1992, and some much bigger trees:
The spruce trees actually look pretty good at this point.
But you can see what Dirr means about 'detracting from the rest of the landscape' even in this early picture.

Some more time passed, and wait a minute, where's the house?

You can barely make out our front window on the right side of this picture. 

This was the flowerbed right in front of the house, very dark and dingy, though good for growing hostas.
The house is becoming overgrown; the panels on the front porch were our greenhouse for a time (remember I mentioned the front porch greenhouse in an earlier post?)
Once we realized we were 'treed in' we decided to remove the bottom limbs on the two spruce trees in front of the house.  This added a little more light again.  I think this picture was taken in the late 1990's, about twenty years after the house was built.

The next installments of this series will show 'the rest of the story'.


PatioPatch said...

Just found your blog and very much enjoyed the story of your childhood, romance, and family house. A lovely narrative and the pictures tell so many stories. Thanks for sharing.


FlowerLady said...

I love seeing the progression of your place. You've done a lot of work over the years.

I look forward to seeing the rest of this creation taking place.

Love your story too.


Anonymous said...

Karen, I loved the trip down memory lane. Reading your blog is like curling up with a good book. The stories are so interesting and well written that you just can't put the book down.

I love the country flair to the writing, so down home, makes you feel like your engrossed in story with an old friend. I don't really mean old since you and I are the same age. That is another reason the writing gets me every time, we grew up during the same time, albeit in different areas of the country. I too was a country girl as a kid in PA.

I just loved the photo progression. My family never took or kept photos, so I do not have images like you have shown. I love that you have all the photos to mark the passage of time and work done on your property. I am really looking forward to part two. Donna

Darla said...

Home--where your story begins...I am enjoying this very much.

Granny Lyn's Garden said...

Hi Karen, Such a great read, I can really relate ,have a huge spruce started from a 6" twig which now covered the whole front of my house.
Will be driving past your next of the woods this morning,going to Rosendale to babysit my grand babies : )
Have a great weekend , Lynda

Gatsbys Gardens said...

Karen, I think you are writing a book. You are a great wrriter and should definitely put your experiences down for all to read.


xoxoxo said...

I love your blog!

Elephant's Eye said...

I grew up with three elder sisters, feeling like an only child with 3 aunts. Looking forward to Chapter 2!

Alison said...

Karen, I am very much looking forward to the continuation of this tale. I am astounded to find out that your house is not actually built on the site of an old quarry.

You are such an excellent writer! I loved reading the tale of your visit to the blacksmith. I was a shy tomboy growing up too, and probably would have reacted just the same, complete with the slide down the seat when you realized you had been noticed....

Got lots of chuckles from this post. Thank you!

noel said...


wow, what a wonderful series, i love it and the jungle happening in the end and your editing to make it look beautiful again was very nice done, great job :)

Karen said...

PatioPatch, Nice to meet you and I'm glad you enjoyed the story!

FlowerLady, thank you, and I'm glad you enjoyed the saga so far. If you (or anyone) would like to email me, it's

Donna, I'm so glad you liked the story, isn't it something how times have changed and yet stayed the same, at least in rural America. I've been digging through pictures looking for ones that sort of show how things changed. Growing up, there weren't many pictures taken either since developing film cost quite a bit, it's amazing how digital has changed the way we collect images now, isn't it? I hope to get to the rest of the story soon. Makes me feel good to know someone's having fun reading this!

Darla, thank you, and yes, this is the way it was...

Lynda, I wish I had known you were in the area, you should have stopped in! You were also very near LC too...we could have made it a garden walk day! I hope you had fun with the little ones!

Eileen, I figure I probably put a whole lot of fellow bloggers to sleep, but I'm glad a few people like my droning on and on. Thank you very much!
xoxoxoxo, thank you!

Elephant's Eye, oh, no three older 'aunt' sisters, oh dear, I can relate! I hope you stay tuned for Part 2.

Alison, Yes, I guess I should have made it more clear that we don't have a 'real' quarry in our backyard-- it is a faux quarry, ok, fake..something we put in one rock at a time. I'm glad you're enjoying my goofy story, it means a lot to me, thank you!

Noel, Yes, we're always working on this yard, trying to get it 'right'. Thank you!