Continued from here.
When the backyard belonged to my grandparents, I liked to think of the patio belonging to my grandfather and the yard belonging to my grandmother. The patio held the charcoal grill, the picnic table with massive adjustable umbrella, and seasonally appropriate sitting devices — from zero in winter to lawn chair rockers — all my grandpa’s type of thing. In the yard, the small flower boxes were filled with marigolds and petunias, the larger flower beds were filled with yearly tomatoes, and the rest of the perimeter was crammed with various sorts of flowery or furry (hi, pussy willow!) shrubbery.
After he cemented the swing set — and long before my sister and I figured out to place ourselves in daily mortal danger with it — Dad set to overhauling the garden. My first instinct is to say that when it was his, it was more vegetables, fewer flowers. Upon further reflection, however, that wasn’t really accurate. When Dad had it, the garden was more of everything.
He did start by removing some of the bushier flowering plants. I’m really not sure what the names of any of them were. One had these large pink puffball flowers when they bloomed. For some reason, when they were still in the bud stage, ants crawled all over the buds — like, imagine the buds were made out of sticky dropped popsicle kind of crawling all over — which was why Dad got rid of that one in the first place, I think. Also because then the family room windows gave an unobstructed view of the backyard, meaning Dad could keep an eye on us playing bobsled and watch hockey on TV at the same time.
Also, these weird flowering bushes with thorns. No, not roses. Roses are stems and leaves and flowers with a few thorns thrown in just for funsies. These were like the Sleeping Beauty Hundred Year Wall bushes, with thorns and thorns and stems and thorns and thorns and leaves and thorns and thorns with a few brave or foolhardy tiny four-petaled flowers thrown in. In fact, we tried playing Sleeping Beauty there once. In our version, Sleeping Beauty woke up, got bored, and went home — because no Prince Charming was ever going to get through those thorns. Which, given that I later learned the original context of that tale, I’m not sad we stopped playing that and started playing “spies who escape on waterslides” instead.
But. The bushes. I know my dad chainsawed those out on his own. I do not distinctly remember the cussing, but I assume it’s just blended in with my experience of all other things Dad. In some fashion, the bushes came out by the roots, leaving happy flower and vegetable beds — the frames for which I do remember redoing my own self — in their place.
Some of those beds, we planted flowers in, at first. Just the cheapie, “toss them anywhere we promise they’ll grow,” wildflower mixes. To be fair, they did. After a while, however, we decided to experiment with other toss and grow things. Leaf lettuce turned out to be both as easy to grow and somewhat more utilitarian and tasty. It is not terrible, when one is preparing a salad, to head out to the yard and pick some lettuce to eat right there.
Those were the same beds in which, after returning from one of our vacations to the Lake Michigan sand dunes, a small patch of wild strawberries started to take hold. They never claimed more than a corner of the flower bed, but even now — nearly twenty years later — they are still there.
In a few other places, Dad did plant rose bushes. I’m not sure if my mom actually liked rose bushes — though I suspect she liked them better than she does leaf lettuce — or if that was just Dad’s excuse for the planting, but each year for Mother’s Day (coincidentally, the time of year when it is safe to plant shit in Michigan without too much worry of overnight frost or freeze), he purchased and planted for her one rose bush. A few of them did die over time, but as most survived, they began to creep their way around the perimeter of the backyard.
Though they did not creep so much as some of my dad’s other plants. But that is another story for another time.