A Privileged Retirement

by Beth Weir

I had the best job in the world as executive director of Dunn Gardens. For someone who likes to get nails dirty, working in a garden as glorious as that one, is like offering a foodie every meal in a Michelin restaurant.

However, even the best jobs are challenged by life. There are grandchildren, travel, books to read, a puppy to play with, etc.. It is now six months and one birthday since I gave up employment.  

Joining the ranks of the retired coincided with downsizing to a new home. Aside from a couple of established trees in the yard, especially the grand white oak (Quercus alba), from the east coast, there was nothing I would have pined over if a storm took it out.  As a gardener I had a blank slate-if you don’t count the need to dig up two weedy lawns, clean out  the tenacious Bishop’s weed from one bed…you get the picture.

But when the real estate was back to bare earth I was left with a void. Mark, the Dunn head gardener, had helped me with clearing the property and choosing some of the plantings, but there was no denying the expanse that was left. This was a “be careful what you wish for” moment. What next?

Fortunately, my parting gifts from the Dunn constituents were plants. There is no way to beat that as thank you offerings to a gardener. Some came carefully labelled, like the truly magnificent Daphniphyllym himalaense ssp. macropodum. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daphniphyllum_macropodum).There needs to be a mom and a dad for these specimens to bloom and I was given both. They bowed a bit under the February snow but are coming back as champions do. Some came as mystery plants; unlabeled perennials that pop back to life in spring time. Hakone Grass (Hakonechloa)  is one. (I thought it was rabbits nibbling on the fresh, lime-green leaves but it turned out to be my puppy. He has class, obviously.)

With gift cash in hand from the docents, I purchased some plants I’ve long lusted after but couldn’t quite bring myself to buy. Edgeworthia C. Akebono, otherwise known as Paper Bush, is one. It blooms in winter on bare stems. I had seen them at the Dunn show off their magic and now I have it at home. (Grin.) Another is a Thuja plicata, or Whipcord Western Cedar. Its mophead self is sitting in partial sun as ordered and I am anticipating the bronze winter color with delight.

The glory about gardening is that, for the most part, if you don’t like where you plant something it can be moved—the Daphniphyllym being the notable exception in my new Eden.  At the moment, and despite my enthusiastic planting efforts, there  remains a lot of open space I can move plants to if I come to dislike their current positions. As a holding device, I have planted edibles in the sunny, bare patches. The strawberry plants are promising a boomer crop, as will the pumpkins. It will be a veritable patch by October.

In case you haven’t guessed, the garden has become something of an obsession in retirement and with luck that will not change. My focus is aided and abetted by the fact that so much of my new life is joined through plants with my old. Stick bushes in the ground and water them; they keep on giving grace. They are living tributes to fulfilling times and the joy of friendships forged in a garden.  That is indeed a privilege.

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