The routine of an early summer morning goes like this: I come downstairs escorted to the porch door by two expectant cats, who trip up me and themselves in their eagerness. They have to wait while I check the outside temperature and open the skylights (it rained last night), and then we all emerge into the early sunshine. They jostle me and each other gently as to who gets out first (an eager pup would have knocked us all over by now), and we stand a moment at the top of the steps and take a deep breath. It’s quiet, it’s green, the sun sparkles in the droplets from last evening’s shower. The cats pick their way through the wet grass, sniffing every flower stalk and weed and rock as they go, and disappear into the hydrangea bushes.
I sit on the top step looking out over our little garden, which in late July is as full and pleasantly over-crowded as it can get. Another African lily has opened overnight; this one a garish pink and rose color and big around as a pie plate. It surely would intimidate any creature that came to inspect it, bee, moth or whatever. “Welcome, creature, come and be devoured,” it seems to breathe into the air. The stalks are four feet high and loaded with many more buds than last year. (Buds as big as a hot dog, bun and all). It’s king of the patch here and seems to know it. The basil and parsley and impatiens cluster about its stalks, and there are some special shining things glimmering out of the soil, namely mason jars, upside down over slips of whatever that were lost sight of under all the growing things. The rose of Sharon bushes overhang a lot of it and have started blooming, bringing the first hummingbirds. The elegant tiny birds shine among the dark green leaves, darting from flower to flower.
We’ve made the deck into a sheltered porch with a gigantic white umbrella in one corner to form an enclosure. There are potted plants covering much of the floor and the steps leading down to the lawn. At last count there were 21 pots and two palm trees. I am house-sitting one of the largest containers for a neighbor who is away. It’s full of herbs — sage, tarragon and thyme, all fresh and well tended — I think I see some rosemary, too. I’m afraid the bugs will get them before they return and make lace of it all like my own little basil patch, which is a mess.
The sedum has filled in everywhere; it is indestructible. So is mint. With these two plants we have pushed our way into the woods that edge our garden; they surround the little stone paths and challenge the dead oak leaves and sticks. Invasive, you say? You bet. So is goldenrod; a huge stand of it lies between us and the woods. It looks like something we deliberately planted to define the edge of our lawn. We like it, to the same degree we dislike dead oak leaves and poison ivy.
Our sedum is descended from the first spadeful that our friend Stanley gave us from his garden on Lambert’s Cove 40-something years ago. We didn’t know what it was, but were prepared to plant anything with a root. We had lately become year-rounders and had a big new house buried in a couple of acres of woodland off Christiantown Road and we were starting our first serious garden. Ted was making terraces, and walked about with a machete in his hand, blasting his way through the underbrush to what would become our back yard. (We were so green at being woodlanders that we thought the bull-briar vines were roses). The sedum began to fill in between the rocks; it edged the patio and covered anything we wanted covered.
Some years later when we moved into Vineyard Haven, the sedum came with us and settled itself in and around the flower beds and bushes and fish pond. My daughter has some in her garden in New Jersey, as do various friends up and down-Island. This afternoon my neighbor here in the condos is coming to get some. I don’t believe you can kill it. It’s in full golden flower now. When I see it for sale in little plastic pots in the nurseries, it makes me laugh.
There seem to be as many different tasks in a small garden as a large one — just fewer plants. I check the little pans of beer that Ted has scattered about the lawn and garden beds; hopefully there will be dead and drunken slugs in them. The methods of how and where to place the containers — whether to bury them so all the slug has to do is wander by and wade in, or raised so it climbs up out of curiosity (and smell) and then falls in, are unimportant — everyone has a theory. I’m tired of seeing their silvery tracks wandering over the porch chairs in the morning. They are one of nature’s revolting creatures and I don’t mind killing them. They die happy, presumably (without my touching them). I check the birdbaths, full from last night’s rain.
Then it’s time to make the coffee, call the Steamship, feed the cats and check the calendar. I leave this little spot of early morning sun and shadows reluctantly.
— Jeanne Hewett