Posted on | May 27, 2019 | No Comments

The day after posting this photo series, I spotted the cover story of Southern Living magazine, Small Space Gardens – Making Every Inch Count, at a local supermarket. It was certainly pretty, this open air living room, what lifestyle editors like to call “aspirational.” But was it a garden? There was so much furniture. The implicit message: we should make the outside like the inside.

As for size, “small” must be bigger in the south than it is in the backstreets of Baltimore, where I now live, and where the rear yards of most ten- to twelve-foot-wide row homes are rarely big enough to get shouting distance from roaring HVAC compressors. If there is access from a driveable alley, many back yards are converted to “parking pads.”

Memory fails as to what prompted spreading a linen tablecloth in this setting. Lunch presumably. Click here for the full photo series.

This begs the question: why garden at all here? From the worthiness checklist: to slow stormwater run-off, to cool an intolerably hot space, to soften harsh acoustics and to give the dogs a place to nose around between walks to the park. Mainly, however, it is to watch. The bird-life drawn by the Chesapeake Bay is captivating. Even the concrete canyon behind my home has cardinals, cowbirds, chickadees, bluebirds, thrushes, sparrows, finches, mourning doves, robins and migrating hummingbirds. While birds are the cast of the play, the garden is the set. And my place in the theater is at the kitchen window, which is pleasantly situated above the sink. I take in no view more often, or more intently, than that overlooking the backyard.

So what, you might also ask, of the couch, the chairs, and even a dining table stand in the photos? These dinosaur skeletons were the rushed gift of a neighbor, who was moving, and who also never used them. Unlike her, I normally don’t bother to even put the cushions out. Black-eyed susans, sage and lavender are seeded beneath the metal frames. Getting rid of the furniture is on the to-do list.

As to cost of the conversion, which is not covered in the photo captions, the eventual price of turning a decayed concrete slab to a flower garden was roughly $10k. This was almost all to do with hardscape: two thousand for concrete removal, three for a concrete footing on the easterly perimeter (along with purchase and setting of steel U-Bar fence posts), four for the fence and another thousand for topper, sod and plants. Were I capable of operating a jackhammer or pouring concrete, this could have been cut down to roughly a thousand. A fairly handy young family could do it themselves.

What about that other great magazine fantasy – outdoor living? I don’t need a couch in the yard to get either fresh air or exercise. In common with all my neighbors who have dogs, or kids, or both, I go to the park around the corner. We do this with a regularity that few, if any, of us demonstrate when it comes to our yards or roof decks. Back home, my garden is for watching and wonder.

The American native Wisteria frutescens, from a one-gallon pot purchased from Herring Run Nursery, run by Blue Water Baltimore


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